Years ago, a certain company offered two types of fantastic seed tapes. Each one was guaranteed to produce instant results for cottage gardeners and formal gardeners alike. In case you want to follow up on this terrific offer, the order number for the cottage garden was MESS. The order number for the formal garden was STIF.
Joking aside, right about now I could use some of those STIF meatballs and lollipops in my garden, which today is decidedly of the sprawling MESS variety.
Rain has come punctually this summer, strong, long and hard, a novelty after several years of summers with only occasional dribbles, and my, how the garden has turned jungle. It outgrows and outpaces us. Insects chew, bore and suck. Storms tousle our best blooms just as they arrive, or drop tree limbs on camellias. Mosquitos and chiggers suck us dry. And deer multiply and browse. Clearly, an untidy situation.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. We happen to like the jungle look, but we like jungles better if they behave. So do our neighbors.
Whenever I am tempted to grumble, I think of Jane and Mary, fellow Master Gardeners and friends from Montana, where it is so dry the rain in thunderstorms evaporates before it hits the ground. They are both remarkably philosophical about their gardening situation. I guess they would order GREEN.
Now, I love working in the garden, so you would think I would be in my glory pulling up and chopping out. Problem is, when it’s not raining here, it’s hazy, hot, and humid. Chiggery amd buggy, too, but that is never mentioned in weather forecasts. It takes Olympic determination to get out there and work. Before I can even start to chop out the floppers, tear through the vines and pull up the weeds, I have to bat down the spider webs. I much prefer being a couch potato to an Olympic gardener.
Mid-July I had a brief burst of ambition and hacked my way through the jungle, piling wheelbarrows high with detritus. Surely all this intense labor merited a bronze medal. (I’m being modest.) Turned my back for a couple of weeks and the jungle was misbehaving again, badly.
My nemesis: trumpet creeper vines. We inherited these along with our pine trees. It was fun at first to see their orange flowers festooning pine branches. The hummingbirds loved them. Now the pines are gone, but the frustrated vines remain, weaving in and out, creeping over and under, rooting and rerooting, searching for sun.
To eradicate them, I must crawl through the chigger-infested spider-web-laced jungle, trace the intruders at their source and balance pruners, paint brush and a small, uncovered jar of herbicide while I paint straight glyphosate on cuts made close to the ground. It’s the only time I use glyphosate in the garden, and most of the time it works, but it’s akin to being traffic cop to lemmings on the run.
Now, if only the deer liked trumpet creepers. . . and speaking of deer. . .
Mom Doe has ranged all summer, efficiently chopping up and chowing down, but her tastes (hosta, hydrangea and phlox) are not necessarily my priorities for pruning. New fawns, prospective plant-grinders Spunky and Pokey teeter bowlegged, while Mom patiently watches, but hey, those amaryllis leaves look tasty.
A little side dish during the vigil? She tears off a tough, strappy leaf,
propels it to her jaws, grinds and swallows in one fluid motion, then repeats the process with another leaf. (So that’s what happened to the amaryllis. I didn’t do stupid pruning after all.) While we watch, she comes up to the window and watches us watching her. Thanks, we imagine her doe eyes saying. But keep it coming, keep it coming. She won’t allow pictures, though.
Spunky considers the garden his/her great wide world to taste
and explore. Pokey, not sure, hangs back, halfhearted, jumps with surprise when a cut hosta stem (Mom’s work, not mine) tickles the muzzle. He/she still prefers nursing, stands disconcerted when Mom walks away after only a few gulps.
No hesitation when Dad gets too close, though. They both scatter and bolt into the woods. We suspect Dad is just as happy to get the kids out of the way as he jumps the fence to follow Mom.
Memories of last spring tease us. The garden bloomed and behaved and was perfect (in our reminisces). The jungle didn’t need taming yet, and we didn’t need meatballs and lollipops, didn’t even think about them.
Still, do we really want meatballs? Would we have beneficial bees and wasps, hummingbirds and swallowtails, box turtles and green tree frogs, praying mantis, black racers or darning needles, and all the wild creatures we have never seen, and yes, even the spiders, if we were spiffy and STIF? I don’t think so.