My gardening system is simple and effective enough to keep general law and order on my almost 1/2-acre lot, where there’s always something blooming, and there’s always an enemy to fight (the dreaded knotweed, and more). What will surely be a legendary infrastructure project is typically in the works, if only in my mind. Over in the far corner, something in a plastic pot waits to be planted.
A glance around the yard is all it takes to confirm that a landscape architect or designer has never been near the place. There are no garden “rooms.” The terrain is uneven. Tasteful stone walls are nonexistent. Often in the garage border (a landscape professional would never have named it “the garage border”), tall things end up planted in front of medium-height things—who knew the Echinachea Merlot would grow to a height of 4-feet, leaving the shorter yarrow to bloom in obscurity behind it? I’ll perform a transplant in the fall, when everyone is most likely to survive such surgery.
What it takes for me to maintain this level of fair-to-middlin’ garden bliss is one hour a day. Any longer and the law of diminishing returns kicks in—things don’t look appreciably better, and that infrastructure project doesn’t get any closer to reality. Any less than an hour a day and oh, well—things don’t look appreciably worse. My one-hour per day method is a non-punitive system. If I don’t get into the yard on Thursday, no punishment math kicks in whereby I must then garden for one hour and ten minutes per day for the next six days to catch up. My one-hour per day method also guarantees that it usually takes me a few weeks to make it around the whole place. So yes, the hosta bed by the front door is pretty weedy by the time we once more share quality time.
It’s a system for putterers, for anti-list types, for the garden-variety gardener. Here’s what I recently got done in an hour in one of the peony beds:
The peonies had a spectacular year. I had nothing to do with the planting of these decades-old perennials, which were put in by previous owners. When we moved in, friendly but nervous neighbors gingerly asked whether we liked peonies. Which turned out to be code for, “If you take out those peonies, we’ll take you out.” Peonies don’t like to be moved, and neither do we, so we’ve all stayed put in perfect harmony.
The peonies are past their prime and in need of some clean-up. I went through with my number 4 Felco clippers and deadheaded each spent bloom. It’s a little sad to say goodbye, but peonies have nice foliage and look good even when not flowering. Which is more than I can say for post-bloom daffodil clumps.
I often come across snails in the garden, but they’re not a big problem. Sometimes I toss then into the woods, sometimes I leave them be. Those who have terrible snail problems swear by setting out a pan of beer. Apparently the gastropods are so attracted to the fermentation that they’ll enter the trap and drown happy. Around here, if anyone is drinking the beer it’s us. The snails can stay.
Swallow-wort is another problem altogether, one I take seriously. Look at its leaves, innocently pretending to be peony greenery. Swallow-wort counts on remaining unnoticed by rushed gardeners who pass it by during quick check-ins. Gardeners have to get right down there at the base of the peonies to see what’s really going on. It is an invasion of peony privacy to peer right under its very skirts, but when it comes to swallow-wort, I insist that peonies leave their inhibitions at the door.
Which, I discovered, they had. The swallow-wort roots were all tangled up in the peony’s rhizomes, and it was a very shameful scene indeed. “Peonies, what are you thinking getting in bed with these invaders who care not one whit about your happiness and security?”
“What can we say, we like the bad boys of summer,” they murmur, unabashed.
Bored after their blooming season is past and proud exhibitionists that they are, peonies prove to me over and over that they are beautiful but care nothing about consequences. Years ago I caught them fooling around with knotweed. I put a stop to that.
The swallow-wort has proven harder to chase off. Just look at that taproot. This was a lucky pull. Most of the time the swallow-wort thwarts my efforts, and I come away with just a long, green stem and the roots stay put in the ground. The peonies laugh at me for trying to break them up with swallow-wort. They think they’re in love.
My hour is up, and there’s still more to do in this section of the yard. Tomorrow I’ll dismantle the staking system the peonies require in spring so that they might hold high their beautiful heads. The stakes will come up and get stored in the shed, and I’ll remove the twine. Then it will be onto the next section of the yard. The privet hedge, which was recently covered with bees, has finished blooming. Time to give it a good pruning.