While weeding the garage border, I came across my friend the praying mantis perched on a pristine hibiscus leaf. In late summer we hung out together, back when he was young and irresponsible. That phase didn’t last long. All too soon the prehistoric-looking insect realized my Wellesley garden is a lot of work. The mantis-in-residence these days keeps our relationship strictly business, given the effort it takes in keeping the hibiscus Japanese-beetle free, and the hum of mosquitoes down to a murmur. No longer does he hop on my shoulder and garden right along with me. Parallel garden play is as much engagement as his adult self will tolerate. I prune a little here, weed a little there. He prays his camouflage skills will allow him to get on with his duties unnoticed. During garden inspection, I pretend I don’t see the mantis at work among the goldenrod. It’s really none of my business how he spends his garden time, anyway. I should concern myself with my own hour in my Wellesley garden.
The garage border goldenrod has passed its prime, yellow blooms giving way to plumes of brown fluff. There’s something still beautiful about the goldenrod, so I decide not to cut it down just yet. In taking a hard look at the garage border, I’ve decided to later move the goldenrod from the spot it volunteered for, hiding behind the Rose of Sharon, to a better spot (to me, anyway) in front of the massive, 8-ft. tall joe pye weed. Although many gardeners sniff at the sight of goldenrod in a perennial border, I don’t mind the wild weed, as long as it behaves and stays in its allotted patch. The goldenrod says it doesn’t mind life in the perennial border, as long as I don’t get all bossy pants and mess with its freedom.
These are the kind of arguments that crop up when I take an untamed rambler like goldenrod and try to exert control. The goldenrod wants to colonize large, sunny spaces. It eyes the vast and (to the goldenrod) useless expanse of lawn that is the volleyball/badminton net area, the spot that barely got used all summer, the goldenrod points out. Also, the goldenrod suggests the too-divine peonies look lonely and bored, like they could use a little wildflower fun in their lives. Which is what all the wild ones say as they try to get next to the peonies. Sorry, goldenrod, no fraternizing with my high horticulture success stories. You either swallowwort, knotweed, and garlic mustard. Those bad boys of the plant world all creep along the edges of the yard with the same old story. They just want to talk to the peonies for a little bit. Get to know them. Show them a little fun. Like an overprotective parent, first I uproot the interlopers. Then I shake them hard, smother them in plastic, bring them to a second location (the RDF), and wash my hands of the matter. If that sounds more like murder than overprotective parenting, I can only hope word gets round and has a deterrent effect on my enemies.
To prove I don’t hang around exclusively with questionable elements, I’ve planted a real perennial in the garage border, an echinacea called Cheyenne Spirit. The idea is that the newcomer will bloom next summer in harmony with the taller daisies located behind it. Of course, the challenge will be to keep the daisies from encroaching on Cheyenne Spirit’s space. Daisies are exuberant and tend to immediately become overfamiliar with border buddies (just ask the rudbeckia), but daisies are so cheerful and hardworking that it’s hard to stay mad for long. If I’ve played my cards right, the daisies, Cheynenne Spirit, and the rudbeckia will bloom at the same time next summer, a triumph of companion planting. Although people seem happiest coupled off, plants usually thrive best in a ménage à trois situation, in which a few are encouraged to bloom at once.
With the addition of Cheyenne Spirit, I moved the finicky echinacea Merlot from its starring role in the front of the border to an off-Broadway location somewhere in mid-town. This way Merlot can put on a late-spring show, but when it becomes unhappy and pouts, as it always does, emerging stars willing to perform can take the spotlight. Merlot can then reflect in obscurity on its behavior for the rest of the growing season and plot its next-year comeback.
An hour in the garden is never enough. At the 50-minute mark my phone notification sounds. I’m afraid our time is just about up for today. Even though there’s so much more to be done, I feel at peace for now. Gardening, like therapy, is never finished. Also like therapy, the results can sometimes be life-affirming and sometimes dubious. My therapist, the praying mantis, suggests I not overthink my time in the garden. The praying mantis says results in the garden are neither good, nor bad. They just are. I’m far from that level of wisdom. But every day I step into the yard is another chance to grow. Whoa. An epiphany. I look to the praying mantis for approval, but he’s vanished, and is not one to approve, or disapprove, anyway. My Wellesley garden is a judgment-free zone.