Whizz-bang Ideas for Garden Clean-up, a Self-Help Manual

You, too, Can Have That Sleek Magazine-Garden Look in Your Garden

Visitors are coming and they like to garden and they want to see what new plants are growing in your garden. You haven’t been paying much attention lately, so you decide you’d better take a look around to see what you can show off. You find so many surprises! You can’t count ‘em all!

Never in my garden!

Dead stalks, dead leaves, half-dead plants, all-dead plants, seed heads with dropsy, vines that own the place, weeds that challenge vines for ownership, and a downed tree limb. (When did that happen?) And where is that path, you know, the one that was there last month?

After the shock, you bolt into a frenzy of activity in the vain hope that you can whip your garden into one of those sleek “magazine-gardens” you have always coveted but thought unattainable because you do not have an army of gardeners equal to workers in an ant colony.

Help is On the Way

Trust me, here is a simple, step-by step, three-part plan of action that is guaranteed to bring results.

Disclaimer: All discussion here is based on meticulous long-term studies and bears no similarity to the author’s gardening techniques. Don’t pay attention to our neighbor when she says she sees me pushing wheel barrows piled-high with “stuff” the day before visitors are coming. Ditto for Bob, in muddied jeans, dutifully digging out soggy, renegade vegetation.

Part I: The Fine Art of Distraction

If you only have a day or so to clean up, go for Distraction.

MAJOR DISTRACTION: If you are fortunate enough to have a mess like this, be sure to steer people right to it. The “wow” factor will distract them from anything else, and they will be thankful that THEY do not have to deal with it.

Or, you could stand a shovel or shovels into a bed or beds and say that certain areas are Under Construction.

A rather attractive distraction, don’t you think? Hoses always add a nice touch, shows you are really working

Randomly placed piles of topsoil, sand, mulch, clods of clay, piles of bricks, tree limbs, even chunks of concrete, anything you happen to have lying around that you haven’t got to yet can be a distraction and add a convincing touch.

There are a couple of problems with this approach. For one thing, you probably don’t have enough shovels.

A post hole digger can be substituted for a shovel. This implies even more ambition, that a fence is going in soon. (Actually, Bob simply forgot to put it away after planting.) But this example shows why it’s important to choose a site for a post hole digger, carefully. Some alert visitor would be bound to ask why you are putting a fence in front of a window

It is possible that your visitors, though polite, would privately think that you have gone bonkers over one too many garden projects. The trick is to limit what is considered Under Construction to the number of shovels you actually own. Then you can spend time creating Great Garden Art.

Never minimize the impact of Great Garden Art. It is the Distractor of Choice.

We planned ahead and purchased this Distractor of Choice, a rusty “heron with an attitude” for use in emergency clean-ups

Rusty is in these days. Hunt up some rusty rakes or long-handled cultivators. (Shovels not available; they are needed for sites Under Construction.)

Balance the tools upside down on a jumble of broken bricks, and you will have created an award-winning piece of Garden Sculpture.

Even chunks of concrete can become Great Garden Art, but you should be clever in your interpretation. Then again, what polite person would risk challenging you and still expect to get a dinner invite by saying no, that really doesn’t look like a box turtle with a cracked shell, or half an alligator.

Here is a sample of our clever garden art we call Neo-prene Primitive-Industrial Musk Ox. Kind of Picasso-ish, with the crazy eyes. Don’t you think?

Once somebody (seriously) asked me if my Irish Spring soap bars neatly set about on sticks to deter deer were a new kind of garden decor. I was thrilled by the question. What new possibilities were suddenly opened up to me! (Sorry, no pictures available, that’s proprietary.)

Oops, pay no attention to those last remarks, this treatise is based only on scientific studies.

Part II: The Fine Art of Decluttering

Your next step to a sleek “magazine-garden” is to de-clutter your property.

(Note: designated Distractors of Choice such as garden tools and piles of debris that are now elevated to Great Garden Art should not be mistaken for clutter.)

You should prioritize tasks. Pay particular attention to entry paths and beds around the house first.

You have, of course, already cleared the buggy spider webs around the lights near the front door that make decorating for Halloween so unnecessary in the South.

Now, take a good look at those tall half-dead plants with stringy stems and two leaves that you’ve been nursing for five years. They do not contribute to an uncluttered vista.

They would look far better chopped down, though then they would look like short, all-dead plants which, however, are less noticeable than tall, half-dead plants because short, half-dead plants that look like short all-dead plants tend to fade into the background.

Chances are, they’ll recover in a year or two, maybe even grow four leaves. Anyway, if they don’t, by that time you will have forgotten that you ever planted them.

Exception: Do not cut down dead plants if they are covered with vines. Green lumps can contribute to an artistic vista.

The point is, you don’t want anyone asking what is wrong with that plant with the two leaves, or, did you actually pay ten dollars for that stick! (Well, it wasn’t a stick when I bought it. Oh, I forget, I know, I know, this should all be based on scientific research, no personal anecdotes.)

Next, you need to consider bumpy stuff on the ground. Yes, I mean weeds and those sickly patches of groundcover you saw growing so thick in your neighbor’s yard you just had to have some, but that turned out to be weed-bullied wimps in your garden.

Note: If you are truly panicked about de-cluttering, you can always fall back on this Distractor of Choice, a strategically placed pickle pail

You should remove as much of the bumpy stuff as possible in order to  establish a proper base for your mulch. (See Part III: The Fine Art of Mulching.)  This is very important, since properly de-lumped flower beds can quickly give your garden that sleek, “magazine-garden” look, so you can spend the rest of your time planning your elegant “magazine-garden” wardrobe (she in flowing white sundress, he in spanking white tennis togs) to go with your unforgettable “magazine-garden” extravaganza.

We are happy to report that a new series of toning exercises consisting of crouch-walking, elbow-crunches and finger-curls, will, in no time, get you to that garden-perfection you seek.

(Caution: We recommend that you consult a physician before beginning any physical exercise program. Participants are warned that this activity may cause permanent bent-knees-bent-back-bent-elbows, otherwise known in scientific circles as the tin-man syndrome, and may prevent your showcasing those magazine-garden outfits to full advantage.)

Or, you could just use a pick axe to get at the weeds .

Adventurous and agile gardeners can find great refreshment in this activity that requires stooped-over power-walking and two-handed tugging, while deftly avoiding the trampling or pulling of favorite plants that happen to look dead.

Happily, there is no pause to roto-root roots, grapple with vines, or wrestle with grasses. Shears can be used effectively on hold-outs, provided no fingers get involved.

Part III: The Fine Art of Mulching

You are now ready to mulch your garden.

Those who seek the super-smooth look and have an extra moment or two, and can find the heirloom newspapers they have saved from the past twenty years or so, should now admit, painfully, that the great recipes, decorating ideas or garden tips hidden therein will never be read.

These yellowed, musty, papers should be spread over garden beds using a minimum of eight sheets of thickness. (Years of meticulous research have shown that this particular number  can actually smother unroto-rooted weeds.)

Invariably, as soon as sheets are spread, a stiff breeze will come up that will scatter the papers, creating great panic because now the gardener must figure out how scattered newspapers can become Great Garden Art. So keep a hose handy and wet the papers down immediately. And don’t even think about stopping to read any of those out-dated garden articles.

Do not feel guilty about omitting any of the above activities. Properly placed Pickle Pails can do double duty as Great Garden Art and Distractors of Choice. In this composition, pail in background draws the eye up and over the half-dead plant in foreground at the same time distracting from weeds in rock

Next pile on the mulch. You should know by now if you are a Dribbler or a Dumper. Dribblers carefully sift the mulch from their hands until it reaches a precise thickness, kind of like DaVinci adding oil glazes to Mona Lisa’s cheeks. The Dribbler Method is guaranteed to give you that enviable “magazine-garden” photo op, though it may take you a month to mulch a bed. Then you will have no time to prepare your “magazine-garden” outfits.

Dumpers, on the other hand, drop a bundle of mulch, the biggest they can grab, then kick the pile around and hope some of it lands where it’s needed. Dumpers are not artists but they do have an advantage over Dribblers. Newspapers will never poke through the mess that a Dumper has dumped and a Dumper can always claim the squirrels did it.

However, Dribblers have an advantage over Dumpers if fresh pine straw is used. Fresh pine straw has a mind of its own. If it is not applied with at least some finesse, it will give your plants a bad hair day, not easily explained away. Dumpers who are lucky enough to own a chipper-shredder, and know a person who is brave enough to use one, are in their glory because ground-up pine straw is easily tossed and kicked into place and will fall off plants on its own.

Simpler, of course, is purchasing pine bark mulch and hiring a person to spread it. That, or the ever popular dyed-red mulch, though you need to hope it doesn’t rain soon after application, unless you like your sidewalks tie-dyed red.

Easier still, is steering people away from the messes. Or inviting people for a romantic viewing of the garden at night by flashlight.

And then there was the evening dinner party planned for twelve. The New Hampshire gardener had strategically placed two-to-three-foot high colorful dummy boards of a Victorian family — mother, father, three kids and a dog – all cheerfully lighted, to guide guests to the house. After hours of sawing, sanding and painting, she was expecting raves.


Next year she brought the family inside

So, maybe you should just forget about the sleek magazine-garden look and put the magazine-garden outfits into storage and bake a great lasagna.

With special affection for those Master Gardeners who have visited over the years and been so enthusiastic and have never seemed to notice the weeds or the half-dead plants or the “bad hair” mulch.

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4 Responses to Whizz-bang Ideas for Garden Clean-up, a Self-Help Manual

  1. Linda says:

    Thank you for the much needed laughter. … and of course the excellent garden advice. 😊

  2. lisalebduska says:

    I can’t wait to try these techniques. Brilliant!

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