Rake Out the Old, Bring in the New

My New Year’s resolutions do not include promises to water wilted plants, keep up with weeding, prune and deadhead, divide and transplant, or mulch and fertilize on schedule. Nor do they include mounting bug patrols to rout out vicious marauders. These would be dandy resolutions and they would keep the place looking topnotch, but they are not mine. My resolution is less work, more loafing.

I’ve just finished reading the thousandth article titled, “What to Do in the

Two seats/wine

Empty seats. Still corked wine bottle

Garden this Month,” and I need a nap. I have never found a list that says, “Do whatever you feel like doing,” or “Just sit on a bench and enjoy your garden.”

Fortunately, most plants have not read the to-do lists so they do not know what they should complain about. Once in a while a plant gets overly dramatic and topples over in a desperate plea for help because, apparently, I neglected to do Number 5 on some list.

Judy's bench

Our neighbor's empty bench. But she has fun playing in her fish pond.

We have benches in our garden that get more use from squirrels than from people.

When my city sister and her husband visited many years ago, they loved sitting on the benches, maybe reading the newspapers, maybe not. They looked out over the blooming azaleas and they were at peace. They didn’t worry about weeds. They didn’t even see weeds. That got me to thinking.

Now we come to the tricky part: how to sit on a garden bench. Never mind, I can handle the bit about bending your knees and poking out your rump. It’s the part about keeping the garden looking good, maybe not top-notch, but good.

Once I visited a beautiful garden and an admirer asked the meticulously

azaleas front drive

Azaleas blooming under pines, easy-care eye appeal

groomed owner how she managed it all. “With my finger,” she said, extending her perfectly manicured pointer finger. Stunned silence. “Yes, I told the gardener to put that one there, this one here, and those over there,” she explained. At least she was honest.

Hiring a gardener is not for me. I’d be hovering over the honest soul, requesting, suggesting, sighing, gasping, though, I am sure, never in an obnoxious way. My nails would not be perfectly manicured and I would not be sitting on a bench.

Well, over the years I have learned a few tricks: notably, the Hierarchy of Plant Care, a fancy phrase that means choosing plants based on Loafing Potential. The hierarchy goes like this: trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, lawn.

Trees: How often do you have to do anything for a tree? A little watering and fertilizing when it’s young, some pruning, and up it grows. A wide swathe of

Azaleas w gazing globe

Azaleas in woodlands glow in winter sun with minimal care

mulch and a cluster of shrubs will keep weeds from growing underneath. If a tree gets too big for its britches (probably because it is healthy and happy) that means the gardener planted it in the wrong place. Location. Location. Location, in garden real estate. Eventually it may have to be cut down, but even this is a one-time-only obligation. (Very High Loafing Potential, particularly since trees support hammocks.)

Shrubs: Pretty much the same category, with some exceptions. Pruning big leaf hydrangeas can take time, and some roses can be demanding, though the Knockouts can be a joy. Otherwise, regular watering, fertilizing, mulching, and pruning to shape when they are young. Occasional pruning to rejuvenate when they are established. And what a show they can give us all year! (High Loafing Potential)

Perennials: Way too much work to keep them looking good: deadheading, dividing, transplanting, watering, fertilizing.

Mixed Hydrangea/Daylily

This bed, a mix of hydrangeas, azalea and daylilyies requires some care but is manageable

There are some exceptions. I remember seeing old, forgotten peonies blooming spectacularly in the flood plain of the Hudson River. Bleeding heart taking over a corner in a New England garden. But there is always The Weeding. (Medium Loafing Potential)

Annuals: Ditto the above, only more so, because they grow and bloom all

Double orange daylilies

Stunning. But this mixed bed with daylilies needs deadheading and watering to look topnotch. Note hose in background.

summer, as do The Weeds which flourish around them. Then they die in fall, giving The Weeds a head start for next year. Then someone has to tidy the mess and plant again in spring. If they reseed, the volunteers are never in quite the right place and have to be transplanted. (Low Loafing Potential)

Lawns: Even if you don’t need a velvet lawn in order to feel fulfilled in life, you have to mow once or twice a week to keep the neighbors happy. Count the hours. Add many more if you must eradicate The Weeds to soothe your soul. (Very Low Loafing Potential.)

Over the years we have whittled away at our lawn. We’ve added small trees and a variety of deciduous and evergreen shrubs. If there is space left in a bed, we mulch. Since I never

Den bed, lawn, azaleas

Easy care beds on the left, high maintenance bed to the right are slowly crowding out the lawn.

could manage a bed of perennials, we’ve limited them to only a few specimens spotted here and there. Now we may actually get to sit on a bench and loaf.

If I could only stop moving plants. . .Wish? Yes. Resolution? No.

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