Tuesday, October 11, 2011

More Grace Please

I dozed off last night at 7:15 and why shouldn’t I?  It was raining, it was cold, and it was really dark.  Besides, we had turned off Monday Night Football so my daughter could watch an episode of The Berenstain Bears and, try as I might, I just can’t maintain interest in the "Mystery of Stinky Cow Milk" since the mystery is missing after 5 or 6 viewings.  So I fell asleep.  Two months ago I would have been outside doing something in the yard instead of drooling in my chair.   

A season's worth of rampant growth and this salvia is out of control and you can't even see the other plants.

Because I work pretty standard hours, most of my gardening takes place on the weekends or, during the summer months, after work.  So when the nights are dark and the weekends are packed with other things that need to be done, it presents scheduling challenges for me as a gardener.  What I have done lately in the yard can only be described as the bare minimum - maintaining a “someone probably still lives here” appearance.  In other words, I’ve mowed the lawn, picked up buckets of dog poop, and recycled about a dozen fliers advertising landscaping services (I think they have been targeting my house since it looks like I could use their help). 

These Kangaroo Paw blooms last forever - or until mid-October, whichever comes first.

During my lunch break today I went home and had a look around the yard since the sun had finally come out and I have missed connecting with my yard.  What I saw depressed me though.  Everything looks gross.  Crepe myrtle blossoms that once looked great on the tree are now slippery booger-looking things on my pathway.  Our rainy season finally arrived but I failed to adjust the drip irrigation timer so everything that hates wet feet is looking worse for wear.  Most of the plants that were in their glory this summer now look spent and gangly.  It's almost as if it never looked good . . . 

This is just too messy for me.

There are plenty of lessons I can learn from this experience.  I could remember to adjust the sprinkler systems earlier next year.  I could schedule a vacation day next October to devote to fall clean up chores.  I could change my pathway to something easier to sweep and keep clean since it’s apparent that the stepping stone look I thought I loved is not actually compatible with my personality . . . or, I could take the advice of Deborah Silver who recently wrote this bit of gardening wisdom:

I do not have the means or space to mount and maintain a garden that is lovely every moment of the entire season.  I have to make choices.  I like a late and a later season garden . . . This has every bit as much to do with my availability, as their form and flowers. There are very few garden plants I do not like.  I would have them all, if I could.           

But there are those plants that get special care and attention, as their time to be corresponds with my time to give. The big late blooming perennials-they occupy a special place in my gardening heart.  As for your garden, I would make this suggestion.  Choose the season that delights you the most-and go for broke.  If you want to grow great vegetables, organize your gardening efforts accordingly, and make plans for rocking pots of basil.  If you have a summer house elsewhere, make spring your season.  If you are a working person, plan for a glorious garden when you are the least busy.

Trying to be all things at all times sounds way too much like a competition.  A great garden that engages and satisfies an individual gardener is all about enabling a certain quality of life.  Those astonishingly beautiful pictures you see of gardens in magazines-they are all about a specific moment chosen by a gardener.  Choose your moment.

If Oprah and I were friends, I’d confide in her that reading the paragraphs above provided me with my “Aha! Moment” as a gardener.  As much as I would love to have a perfect looking garden in October it is, apparently, the time of year when I have the least to give my garden.  So I’m going to give myself a little more grace and I’m going to try to be happy with giving what I can. 

My Aha! Moment needs a light bulb above my head, but all I have is this lantern.


  1. My sister had that moment, too. She decided that spring and fall were too short and unpredictable weatherwise to concentrate on flowers that look good during that time. So she is now concentrating only on plants that look good in the middle of the summer when the days are longer and she has more time to garden. Kind of that "go for broke" attitude Deborah mentioned. Since we have such a long growing season here, I feel like I have to have a garden that looks good in every season. So far so good, but it does make for some VERY busy, wear-myself-thin, the inside-of-the-house-looks-like-a-wreck times. I've already created the "beast that needs to be fed." But I do LOVE it and that's what keeps me going. We make time for what we love. Sometimes it's gardening, sometimes it's napping during the Berenstain Bears. It's all good :-)

  2. I read this as if you were writing about my plight! Great introspective, Let's say reading this my "Ah Ha",was "choose my moment",I just have to figure that out! lol! I have time this week to do things that need to be done, but I feel like I ran out of gas.. So here is to that cup of coffee, and list that keeps nagging me and your words that makes me say choose already! LOL
    Thank you!

  3. Chad, I agree wholeheartedly. My garden's Best Moment is between 6 and 8PM on July 30 (depending on weather conditions). Before that Moment, it's a disaster and after that, it's all downhill.

    I looked up from mortaring yesterday and the view took my breath away. Whoo ooo ooo in surprise and alarm...what a wreck the garden has turned into since I've spent all my time on the rocks. I'm thinking taking up drinking (in moderation, of course) isn't a bad idea. Then I won't notice the pond full of dead leaves and the mushy hostas and shriveled up annuals quite so much.

    And by the way...did the Berenstain bears figure out the mystery of the stinky cow milk? I still haven't got the stench of Carl's gallon of over the hill milk out of my aging American-made vehicle yet. Now I'm going to have to rent the video.

  4. I used to hate getting those landscaping fliers. Made me want to say 'hey, buddy, are you trying to tell me something?' I think my best looking fall garden was at our first house. Mostly evergreen perennials, with an occasional Japanese maple thrown in for a splash of fall color. Most of the garden though was slow growing, and needed less maintenance throughout the year. It suited our hectic lifestyle, and the garden always looked 'alive' through all the season. Here it's the opposite. Native garden beds that get shabby in fall. Vegetable garden beds that look like the bull run of pamplona ran right through them. The orchard is a shambles and needs raking. This post has made me appreciate just how low maintenance that first garden of ours was. Very few annuals, just a few in pots, no grasses to be mowed, minimal pruning. Sometimes I miss those days ;) Wise plant choices can make all the difference in maintenance, but it's also just fine to accept that the fall garden won't look as lush. Instead, how about using the fall garden, and the short days to your advantage with some garden lighting? Maybe uplight that crepe myrtle, or other large shrubs in the garden. It's amazing how good even a tired garden can look at night with the right light.

  5. I'm in the same boat with limited time. Half-hour gardening every day would probably be sufficient to maintain and enhance my garden, but it is usually at the bottom of my list of priorities. Coincidentally I just saw Oprah's last show after 25 years today in the UK.

  6. I love Curbstone Valley's idea. I have a lot of evergreens because they look good all year. Love the idea of lighting - haven't done that yet, but I bet it would look dramatic and fabulous, and no one would notice the mess that's not illuminated. I feel like I need a year-round garden because I want to be out there all the time. If not, I'm a bit depressed. So, I'll trade looking fabulous during one season for looking so-so year round. It's better for my mental health.

  7. Amen, brother. Amen.

  8. My garden now will have the mantra, “someone probably still lives here”. It did all summer as I was busy elsewhere. But I think I mowed the grass only four times all summer until now. Yes it was brown, yes, it got long, but time is not always available for all things. I do plant for all seasons, so at least the garden had that going for it.

  9. Toni - Someday I'll think I will get to where you are. I'd really like my garden to look good in every season because I enjoy gardening and would like to do it all year but this just isn't my "season".

    Virginia - Good luck with your choice! I understand the running out of gas though . . .

    Karen - I had to laugh at "between 6 and 8 . . ." But you're just being humble. Your garden looks amazing! And by the way, yes, the Berenstain Bears figured out that because they had left open the gate, the cows wandered off and ate some onion grass and that's why the milk was stinky. Is onion grass even a real thing? The morale of the story was that we need to own up to our mistakes (leaving the gate open) so that people can fix the problem.

    Curbstone - thank you for the thoughtful response. I had already given some thought to changing some of my plant choices (though I hadn't acted on it much yet) but the lighting idea is simply "illuminating". I think I will really look into that.

    b-a-g - Half an hour a day would be great. I think there's a quote out there along the lines of "the best fertilizer for a garden is the daily footsteps of the gardener". I probably butchered that but you get the point I'm sure.

    Holley - I would like to be out there year round too. I think when my daughter is older I will have more time. Unless I'm being totally naive about that . . . we'll see, I guess!

    Kevin - thanks for reading. After you posted your comment, it occurred to me that my conclusion here isn't that different than your post the other day regarding the impossibility of living up to Martha's standards! It appears we are both coming to terms with our limitations.

    GWGT - I'm glad I could help out with a mantra for your garden. It sounds like summer is your busy season!

  10. Very, very true. We have to pick priorities, and family tops a season of bedraggled garden.

    I get lots of those fliers as well, probably because any time outdoors is usually spent on the garden, so any area that is supposed to be lawn looks very, very pitiful.

  11. So true, so true...

    Believe it or not, I've saved all the old videos (VHS) from when my kids were little...hoping the VCR can hang on until I have grand kids! Those sleepy moments on the couch curled up with your baby are priceless. You're a blessed man.

  12. Excellent post! I might add that adopting a love for the slightly messy look is also an option. Our gardens don't have to be perfect. Fallen leaves have their own beauty, as does a path strewn with spent flowers. Take a small grandchild out into the garden, and he or she will show you how wonderful it is!

  13. Right. I mean really who's in charge here, you or the garden? And actually, I'd choose the Berenstain Bears over football every time.

  14. I know, I've been neglecting some chores, too. I just don't get as excited about gardening when the season is winding down. And it doesn't pay to rake when the leaves are still falling. ;)

  15. Picking up buckets of dog poop?

    Oprah would tell you that's a 'I'm rich, biatch, so I'm gonna hire someone to follow my dog around with a bag to wait for it to poop' moment. 'Cause you know she doesn't do that shit herself. I don't blame her.