Friday, March 18, 2011

Can this garden be saved?

Update: Sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better, right? A late, late killing frost took out the wisteria and several shrubs. It took me all summer to accept that they were dead, and I'm still trying to come to terms with the demise of the wisteria. I dug all of the buttercup out of two beds, divided perennials, moved and pruned shrubs. And when I went inside to get the camera, all of the buttercup grew back. Garden Rehab 2.0 is about to begin.

When we moved to Tiger Mountain there was exactly one ornamental plant on the property--a stringy 9 foot tall lilac that sported maybe a half-dozen pathetic blooms at the very top. After the important business of making a falling-down house habitable we turned our attention to the outside. I hired an award-winning landscape designer to create a set of garden spaces on two sides of the house. He brought in a huge backhoe to dig out the glacial till and replace it with his own special fast-draining, root-enhancing soil. He brought in huge granite boulders and laid a patio and walkway of granite slabs. He added some full-size trees and shrubs. It was stunning.
Over the next few years I added more perennials and shrubs. I became a regular at the Heronswood open houses and at the Hort Society's annual plant sale. I shuffled things around, I weeded, I pruned, and I mulched. Some years I had homegrown flowers on my table all 12 months. Even the lilac began to bloom heavily every spring.
Mistakes were made. Some plants just weren't right for my cool summers and failed to thrive. Some (most?) shrubs quickly exceeded their purported 5-ft-at-maturity height. Invasive seed blew in and tried to take over. I changed jobs. My new job required a lot of travel. I expanded my vegetable garden to where it took most of my free time. In a single summer an untended garden can get a bit out of control. In two summers, it becomes overwhelming. It's been mumble years since anyone could call my ornamental garden stunning. It's time to make things right again.
In four months garden bloggers from all over will come to town here. Although I haven't blogged regularly for some time, I tremble with fear at the prospect of, say, Carol asking to come see my hand-forged hoes. Bad enough to be a garden-blogging dilettante; I fear being exposed as a garden dilettante. And perhaps if I can't be an inspiration to other bloggers, I can at least serve as a terrible warning to others. THIS is what happens when you ignore that buttercup creeping in from the fields. THIS is what happens when you choose plants unwisely and end up having to whack them back every year. This is what happens when you don't force your hydrangeas into dormancy before the first cold snap. Fellow gardeners, THIS is my garden at its worst. Don't let this happen to you.












So there's my hall of shame. However, I do believe in redemption. I know that with nothing more than some good hand tools, which I have, and hours of hard work, this garden can realize the potential it had 10 years ago. I can do this. My ground rules are few and really boil down to the single principle that I can't buy my way out of this one.
  • I made this mess, I have to clean it up myself. No fair hiring day laborers to do the dirty work. Besides, how will they know what treasures lie beneath the weeds and debris?
  • Covering up the weedy areas with a thick layer of mulch is not an option. Mulch there will be, and plenty of it, over clean ground.
  • No shopping for distractions, whether garden art or perfect plants already in bloom. New plants have to be propagated from existing ones, or started from seed.
Watch this space. Things are going to get better.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Phil said...

Best wishes for a great season, Molly!

07 April, 2011 20:02  
Blogger Aerie-el said...

I love this post! Because you see, I'm in the same boat. It has been as many years since I've been in the gardens to tend them and buttercup is rampant in them. We can commiserate at the SAGBUTT gathering (today).

21 August, 2011 07:02  

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