An impinged nerve. That’s what they tell me it is, but in my language, it’s sharp shooting pain in my arm and an electric buzzing in my thumb and pointer finger whenever I reach for anything with my right hand. Can’t pull weeds, can’t dig holes, can’t transplant, can’t deadhead. All I can do is look.
It’s good for me. It’s teaching me to really see. It’s frustrating, but educational, and that’s always a good thing. Or so I keep telling myself.
It’s not great for the garden. My garden has exploded with weeds, with flowers too, the dahlias are battling the tomatoes for room and the roses that a friend is deadheading for me are getting ready to blow up with color all over again, but a garden is a living breathing thing, at least the way mine is created, and it’s got to be kept in check.
But really, the thing that’s making me uncomfortable is that now that I can’t just bury my head in the weeds that I’m pulling, and I’m being forced to look around the garden and really take it in I can see that some part need more help than just a deep weeding. Some parts need rethinking. All gardens need rethinking sometimes, or at least parts of them do, and being forced to stop and really look at your garden from a far, instead of being immersed in it working, lets you see what’s working and what’s failing.
August has always been the best time to see what’s what in the garden. And to make plans. At almost any other time, if you see something that’s off you’ll probably grab a shovel and do a little rearranging, or remove the offender and put something else in it’s place, but in August most of what we are doing in the garden is making sure all our new additions have plenty of water and trying to keep the weeds at bay. In August, when you notice something is off you need to make a note and address it later, and that’s a skill that some of us don’t really have.
I’m an immediate gratification kind of a girl. Not a sit and ponder on it person. If one plant is being swamped by another, or if a color combination is jarring and out of place, I'll address it immediately. Right now I can’t, and in August, you really shouldn’t anyway – it’s too hot to transplant, so I’m getting a seriously long overdue lesson in observing and planning. Luckily I can still take notes, and I’m doing so with a vengeance. I’m filling up pages in my garden moleskins with what I hope won’t be too cryptic notes and scribbles for this fall, next spring, and the garden in general.
These a couple of the things you should think about when taking notes.
What parts of the garden are bugging you the most? Or what do you have to do before it makes you crazy? For me it’s the Joe pyeweed on the east side of the ex-veggie garden that needs to be transplanted, as does the Ironweed on the west side of the garage. And I need to dig up and toss almost all my daylilies. After having been eaten by deer for so long previously they’ve all reverted to one that is a funny double orange with a red throat. At least that’s what I think has happened, I can’t image I ever choose of planted these garish things. They all need to be ripped out and discarded and replaced with the peach and pink and cream colored ones I started with ages ago. There’s a couple that need to be saved and I need to mark those with red ribbon so they are saved, but there’s a lot to be discarded fearlessly. The ostrich ferns need to be eradicated from under the apple trees and the wild plums more completely.
What part of the garden needs a little fiddling? The asparagus by the garage is swamping the gooseberry next to it, so one of them needs to move, and the plain green hostas I got as freebies need to be thinned and transplanted into various other shady spots so that there’s more room for variation in foliage and texture in the bed where they presently huddle. There’s a big gaping spot under the viburnums in the front west side bed which needs filling and the bed under the pear tree needs something medium sized right in front of the truck and behind the astrantia, with something that will pair well with phlox. That bed also needs to not be allowed to fill in with Dame’s Rocket next year as it’s removal is too destructive and noticeable. There’s also a rogue hydrangea that’s popped up by the Heller’s Japanese holly by the basement door that needs a proper home and those hollies need to be pruned back so that you can actually use the back door to get in and out of the kitchen.
Would things look better it they were pruned? Would you get more light? I‘ve scribbled notes about the beech tree that we keep lifting up and a few magnolias I want to shape as well as on those things that need to be cut back hard this year, like the rose of sharon behind the chicken coop or perhaps even removed entirely, like the jetbead that is the rose of sharon’s neighbor. Then there are shrubs and trees that need to be cut back so you can travel throughout the garden. I’ve got a whole page of notes on those.
When you look out your windows what do you see? From most of my windows the view is pretty good except for the two little lime hydrangeas and two roses in the front bed that need to be dug up and moved from the front of the bed to about halfway back. This is only because I had to transplant an enormous corylopsis from that middle spot to the back of the property, but by doing so I threw off the balance in that bed so the front feels too tall and heavy and needs these four shrubs centered where the corylopsis used to be. I sometime also use photographs as a way of taking notes. And as a way of helping me remember. Now that we all have a phone in our cell phones, it’s easy to photograph the view from my computer so that I can see exactly where I need to add in more late summer color and the spot by those hydrangeas so that next spring I’ll know exactly how high I need the shade tolerant plant I’m choosing for that spot to grow. It was a great tool this spring when I finally shot places in the garden that I want to add bulbs, and much easier to refer than notes are when locating exact placements.
Is there anything you have to walk and find or do you see the whole thing in one shebang? I have an entire perennial border that you have to trek to the back forty to see. It’s fantastic. There’s a picnic table back there as a reward for having slogged the whole way back, but it should be nicer, a better table and seating. And while I’m on the subject of visually attractive objects, wouldn’t it be nice to have sculptures in the garden? Ornaments you only see by walking through the entire garden, or mobiles hanging from some of the trees. Or more benches so I could actually go to a part of the garden as a destination and not just keep passing through on my way through the thing.
Does your garden have a focal point? Do you need one? I have an ancient crab apple that serves as a focal point for the long view down my garden, and I’m lucky in that I’m planted out all my neighbors for most of the season, so no matter where I’m sitting or standing or walking I have something interesting to look at, that’s either giving me a place to rest my eyes or inviting my to come closer and give it a closer look. My compost pile is the only unsightly thing in the garden, but I kind of dig it and it’s really not too exposed at all.
Does your garden have too much variety or not enough? I’ve been good here, buying things in masses as opposed to one at a time. It’s meant that I’ve had to pass up a couple of interesting plants, but it also means the garden beds look more coherent, less a mish mash of random cool things. And being a plantaholic means there’s no way my garden doesn’t have enough variety, it’s genetically impossible.
When you pull in with your car is the view always attractive or is it really nice only at one point of the season and the rest of the year it’s boring? Most of the time this bed looks pretty nifty, but there’s a supposedly variegated dogwood that has reverted to being almost entirely green by the front driveway needs to just be ripped out and disposed of. Not because it’s not a lovely tree, it is, but it’s taking up a lot of real estate in that front bed without being interesting for enough seasons. And although the path to the kitchen from the cars works perfectly, the Limelight hydrangea and the Lemon Queen heliopsis flop onto it too often when it rains. These they need to be moved somewhere else.
Is there anything that just isn’t working anymore? Actual the bed with the heliopsis mentioned above, unfortunately, needs to be entirely rethought. This bed holds my hummingbirds’ monarda but is swamping under its onslaught, what was once a hint of red is now a seething mass and although fun for the hummers, it’s slightly overwhelming for me. It’s also not that attractive a plant after it blooms. And it’s in prime, walk past it twice every single day real estate. In the spring the bed is delightful, although could use more bulbs, but when I compare mid spring photos with mid august photos it’s obvious that there needs to be a big overhaul here.
The same thing needs to happen in the ex-vegetable garden. That garden is gorgeous right through June, but as July barreled in and all of last years forgotten and unharvested potatoes started really getting going, it went feral. I knew it was coming, but I didn’t address it this past fall, just threw tulip bulbs everywhere and again this spring I neglected to try and get it under control so now I officially have chaos. I don’t need any notes or photographs to tell me this, because when you have to bushwhack your way in to find your swallowed up pepper plants it’s easy to see have far everything has gotten away from me. I normally can ignore this problem by ripping out spent cilantro (coriander anyone?) and using twine or yarn to pull plant up and off the paths, but this year I can’t even begin to make headway. I certainly can’t tie twine without my right hand and where in past years I’d start by harvesting the potatoes which would at least give me a little breathing room, this year I’m having a hard time figuring out how to use a spade or a garden fork with only one arm.
So I’m using my imagination instead. I’m visualizing how it would look with a larger path and a paved area for seating in the center. I’m scribbling down that the fritillarias need more sun and that there’s a nice transplantable daylily in there, but most of my imagination is captured by the possibilities of change. Should it only really be about roses? Will I be willing to stop sneaking in vegetables after swearing off them for the last two years and then caving in?
And then from there I’m flowing outwards. The bed with the lavender which is so terribly, terribly sandy, should I make that a place for edibles and rework all the soil or is the idea of walking back there on a daily basis laughable when I don’t even pluck cucumbers with any regularity that are within cat throwing distance of the house right now. Perhaps I need to simplify back there, and move the perennials back there up front and fill their empty spaces with shrubs that have become way too thuggish upfront. Or maybe that’s where all my extra red monarda from will go.
And then there’s the bed under the wisteria. The wisteria has become so dense that the only thing the plants in that bed are doing is suffering. And the paths are getting too narrow, so should I replant the whole thing or should I just suck it up and try and dig out the wisteria? Is that super crazy?
Oh dear, I’m starting to feel entirely overwhelmed, maybe I need to put my head down between my knees and breathe, but wait, what’s that feeling I have deep, deep inside me? Huh? That feels a little like excitement, and a teasing of possibility. So maybe this not gardening thing isn’t going to be all bad.
Paige Patterson hasn’t held a trowel in 6 weeks and is going through withdrawal.