Monday, April 30, 2012

Restoring Order in the Garden


            The moments I like best of all are when my hands are in the dirt and I’m making life or death decisions about spring incursions by this or that intruder. This is a regular springtime experience. Things happen over the winter, some of them unexpected.
            Some of course are very expected, such as The Return of the Weeds.
            Most of our weeds survive by beating competitors to the punch. Some grow up in the smallest empty spaces, even between the leaves of the officially recognized space-takers, the A-List of garden property owners. I wonder, briefly, what would happened if I just stopped pulling a certain greeny interloper with pointy leaves (which I can recognize anywhere by sight but will never learn the name of) that springs up among such heavily leafed and hearty survivors as English Ivy and Pachysandra. I think I know. After a few years we’d stop seeing the ivy and the pachysandra. They would still be there at first, along the ground, but these weeds grows fast and tall and their leaves hog all the view-space. All the sun as well. The plants below would begin to starve.
            I would have a lot of these nameless greeny guys all over the garden, but I wouldn’t have much else.
            But restoring order each year in the perennial garden is not just a matter of thinning the weed colonies down to a dull roar.
            The harder decisions have to do with where to draw lines between the good plants, the favored flowering kind which I rely on to keep me happy all season, successively, each in its turn, when these privileged characters begin invading each other’s territory.
            In a mild and snowless winter, our Vinca appears to have been growing all year, or perhaps it just got an especially early start in a mild winter followed by an even milder March and April. Are there some perennial garden plants that simply nevcr stopped growing last year? Is that why the Vinca is thick and brilliant this April, while I find no signs whatsoever of the Achillea, the Gallardia, or a few Russian sage plants that used to pop up between the low viney Vinca and tower over them in the summer?
            The mild weather favoring certain species over others may also be the reason why we have a thick, mid-season looking patch of clover in the front garden near the stoop where there used to be a colony of self-seeding Snapdragons and a couple of showy flowering perennials, such as bachelor’s button, which appear determined to prove to me they don’t like being planted near the house.
            As for the Vinca takeover of the front garden, I may dig some up to make room for the late-season bloomers I envisioned sharing that space near the sidewalk. For the clover – sorry, you guys are headed for the mulch pile whenever I make up my mind to restore the Snapdragons or some other heat-loving perennial to a high-visibility space (or make a better guess as to what plants would actually flourish in this spot).
            But the toughest choices are the when-worlds-collide run-ins between desired bloomers. Free-range violets in the Steppable thyme patches? Pull them out. Other groundcovers overrunning the Stonecrop Sedum? They’re gone. What about the Mazus (the ground-hugging Steppable producing fields of tiny exquisite pink flowers just now) running into the Forget-me-nots? Leave the blue unforgettables there; deal with the Mazus in a month or so when they’re not blooming any more.
            I don’t really like discouraging any growing things (despite the necessities cited above), but there’s an overriding pleasure to these decision-making, border-setting, homeland-defending, life and death choices in that my fingers are in the soil when I am making them.
That is what I really like. My hands on the earth, while the plants whisper their secrets.