Thursday, March 6, 2008

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Some expressions are just too useful to be discarded, never mind recent, transient degradations. And so I'll go ahead and use "last throes" to describe the current state of Old Man Winter in these parts. We're headed for a short spate of night time 20-degree temperatures over the next few days, but the living things around me seem to know it's OK to send out their tender youth, from the birds to the perennial bulbs to the trees. Our red maple out front is loaded with tiny leaves already, while its silver cousin in the back is dropping its red flower buds in profusion (as it drops everything else over the course of the year, from its helicopter-like seeds to its dead leaves). And the surest sign: my eyes are getting irritated and I'm stuffing up. There's pollen somewhere. Must be the silver maple.

The picture above is a view of part of our back yard. I took it and am posting it mainly as a stark reminder of the work ahead of us outside. Much as there is still plenty to do within these four walls, there is at least as much beyond them.

When we moved here in 1981, the back yard was an unbroken green expanse. We tilled the dirt and created that big garden you see on the left as soon as we got here. It proved to be sunny and prolific, producing tomatoes enough to put up for the winter, and, one extraordinary season, 15 pounds of raspberries. But living things grow, and nothing stays as it started. The tree on the other side of the fence, whose trunk you see just to the left of the utility pole, is a white oak, probably about 40 years old. When we arrived on the scene, it was a sapling, and we've enjoyed watching it mature over the years. But with its maturity has come an ever-encroaching blotting of the sunlight, to the point that now the garden is completely shaded. It gets no sun at all except at the extreme front edge, where the garden timbers are. We are bowing to the inevitable and plan to return that space to its previous green state. We'll keep the timbers there and the row of daylilies that grows behind them, and then create an outdoor "room" of lawn beyond, with a few chairs and a cocktail table. It will be a sitting space alternate to our deck, which is immediately out the back door and from which the picture was taken. No doubt it will look very nice and help the house "show" well. But we won't have that garden any more, and we'll miss it. I hope the narrow strip that begins to the right of the bird feeder and extends to the other property line will still work. That's where I've got my rhubarb and where I may move the raspberries.

Working with plants is something like having pets, at least to the extent that over time the plants get bigger and as they grow they must be either adapted to their environment or, worst case, "put down." We're facing that prospect with two lilacs we have in a side garden. Lilacs at their best are either tightly controlled in their growth, taking planned advantage of the suckers they produce, or are allowed to go rampant and become huge. We didn't know the former when we planted ours--all we were after were the pretty, fragrant flowers--and we haven't the space for the latter. So after this year's flowering season they will have to come out, having become just too ungainly. There are two arborvitae we intended as accent trees near our front porch that have not aged at all well. They've lost their shape. I tried pruning one and have now seen it will take several seasons for it to fill in again. So later in the spring I'll be going to a nursery for some advice on tall, compact, shade-tolerant evergreens (know of any?), and probably be dropping a pretty penny on two fully-grown trees.

But with all this work to anticipate, still, as I sit here and look out at the front yard, I'm pretty proud of the way the place looks, with its terraced beds of azaleas, and colorful flowers planted with their blooming time in mind so that something is almost always flowering. I've learned that some plants are not worth the work they require--hybrid roses, for example, are wholly engineered organisms that would not survive without constant human intervention--and that others repay you many times over for the care you give. In that category are peonies, a constant joy, with their big, puffy flowers and their wonderful scent.

Muck, here I come!


Cuidado said...

I'm looking forward to the gardening season though it's months off here yet.

Ralph said...

Canadian gardens in a way seem more beautful to me because of the shorter growing season, Cuidado. I'm sure you have a great garden. I look forward to seeing your pictures of it.

Ravel said...

My BF is a gardener, just a bit off Montreal. Since I am with him, I tasted the best tomatoes ever!
The funny part is that our place in Mtl has no gardening space at all, as the building is flush with the streets, back & front... :-/

Ralph said...

Well, you guys are looking for a new place, right Ravel? Your day will come!