Midsummer has arrived, and July and August are draping the garden with raggedy crazy-quilts. I knew, deep underneath my intoxication with our garden this spring, I would have to pay the piper for all that bliss (or some other designated creditors.*)
Summer is supposed to be carefree, overflowing with peaches and cream. That does not seem to apply to this garden, where rowdy plants are staging guerilla-style invasions. Somehow, the corn is as high as an elephant’s eye has a loftier ring than the poison ivy has almost come to the top of the ratty old gum.
I am a laissez-faire gardener. That’s French for ignoring messes. Most years, though, we do lick-and-promise clean-ups before visitors come. Those hefty, hefty barrowsful keep things under loose control, cosmetically anyway. This year, no visitors, no licks, no promises.
But lots of time. So I walk the garden to figure out what I did then that I will Never Again do. (Notice, I said Walk, not Work.) I’ll plan some strategy, dream up some shady ploys for Laissez-faire, or enjoy a sunset.
(Of course, Dear Reader, I know that you would never have any Never Agains in your garden.)
1. I shall never again plant a tulip tree in the middle of the front lawn.
Why did I do it? Long ago I fell in love with a tulip tree in an enchanted woods. So I rescued a stray seedling and gave it a place of honor in our garden. Ah, the rosy dreams.
The reality is: This glory of the woods, come midsummer, flings a bumper crop of out-sized brown, crusty leaves over the lawn. We should be blowing, mowing or raking, but Laissez-faire works best. By the way, did you know that tulip-tree limbs make outstanding missiles in hurricanes?
2. I shall never again plant a quince at the end of the driveway.
Why did I do it? You should see this quince in spring, when daffodils bloom. I wanted everyone to admire its red blaze. Unfortunately, there’s a hitch. I am not a good backer-upper. Quince thorns scraping the side of a car are like chalk on a blackboard.
So far nobody has been impaled, fortunately, since you don’t notice the thorns until midsummer, when the plant defoliates. That’s when neighbors are sure to spot that quince and ask why I keep a dead plant with thorns at the end of the driveway. One year I let clematis sprawl over the naked quince. Then people asked why I didn’t cut down that vine that was invading that dead plant with the thorns.
3. I shall never again make paths narrower than four feet.
What was I thinking? By midsumer, hungover plants make narrow paths uninviting, at precisely the time The Big Itches arrive.
So laissez-faire trumps industrious cleanup and I tell visitors I am waiting for plants to set seed (though I have no idea what seeds). Alert visitors want to know names, might ask to collect seed heads. Go right ahead, I say, but do watch out for the diabolical duo: poison ivy and chiggers. Sane persons lose interest.
4. I shall never again experiment with unknown plants.
Take the East Indian maidenhair fern. (Please.) Such an exotic name. I purchased one and now there are hundreds.
So I give up, no more pulling, digging, blaspheming. Now they have free rein of one whole garden bed. The deal is, they share space with a hodge podge of the toughest of the toughs: quince, mahonia, spirea, calycanthus, formosa azalea, and a certain deutzia that never stops growing. So far I can’t tell who is winning. Next year will be better, I’m sure.
5. I shall never again say that next year will be better.
From now on I will accentuate the positive and say instead: You should have seen the garden last year. Since most people can’t remember what they had for breakfast yesterday, they surely won’t question my version of the-fish-that-got-away story.
((Sorry, no photo is available for this Never Again.))
6. I shall never again overcrowd plants.
Each plant must have its own space, I say, but something always seems to go awry.
I blame our clay soil (Never the gardener). Plants often spend four, maybe five years rebelling before they decide to explode. Some plants simply give up. That leaves lots of open space in a bed for a long time.
I am impatient. So what’s the harm of tucking in a few plants from friends or some special finds from nurseries? Space may be a little tight, but, well, not every plant will grow.
One year, everything does grow, and I have Horticultural Armageddon.
7. I shall never again let an unknown “interesting” plant get more than two feet tall.
Three years ago we found a stripling with leaves similar to a redbud’s. (Should have looked more closely.) We’ve won the lottery on this one, we crowed, as we watched it grow to a height of thirty feet this year and imagined a splendid cloud of lavender bloom next spring.
The buzzing in June tipped us off. Bees? On yellow catkin blooms? And green berries instead of pods? Our “redbud” was an imposter! This was a Chinese tallow tree (Triadica sebifera), fast-growing to 60 feet, its long-lived seeds loved by birds. Once grown as an ornamental, today it’s invasive.
We might have delayed removing it, but a certain gardener was not happy with the idea of taking down a forty-foot tree next year.
8. I shall never again buy or accept as a gift a plant that has already died three times in my garden.
Twice maybe, but not three times. Especially those plants that look haggard for months before they give out — though in their favor, dead plants usually don’t hog garden beds. And one can always replace them with others that will. Having said that. . .
9. And finally, I shall never again read articles with titles like How to Conquer Weeds, Spectacular No-Care Annuals, and, the one I like best, Plan Ahead for a Carefree Garden.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve always planned ahead. Every spring I would make lists, and sub-lists for the lists, and sub-sub lists for the sub-lists. Each time I finished a task, I would cross it off the list(s) with fanfare.
I never got beyond Task Number 3 before July Fourth. So that’s why I don’t make to-do lists any more.
Instead of to-do lists, I make Never Again lists and fine-tune my Laissez-faire.
*Designated creditors: Wheelbarrows and truck
And the never-fail crepe myrtle.