While I was gardening

The art of gardening and the science of life.

A Wealth of Difficult Decisions, a Poverty of Easy Solutions, and a New Year to Sort it all Out

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After many years of hard work, extensive research, experimentation, and vast amounts of labor and money, my garden is where I want it to be.  For now.  Plants are strong, healthy, and beautifully pruned (can’t take all the credit for that).  Our plant collection, while not extensive, is diverse and unique when compared with many neighborhood gardens.   Over the years the garden has become a wildlife sanctuary, often with amusing results.  In addition, it has become a neighborhood attraction.  On occasion, I have looked out a window to see someone coming up into our yard to take a closer look at a plant.  I remember a pleasant incident 3 years ago when I looked out the kitchen window to see 2 people standing in my front yard, talking.  Not recognizing them, I decided to come outside and introduce myself.  As soon as I came down the walkway, I recognized a fellow student from the horticulture program I had attended whom I hadn’t seen in a couple of years.  We hugged, she introduced me to her friend, and told me that she had admired our garden for years but didn’t know that it was mine.  Her friend explained that he was struggling with the direction in which to take his garden.  We discussed his soil, orientation of the property, favorite plants, and amount of time and resources he would have to give to his garden. The more we discussed and explored his options, the more I thought about redoing my garden.   In many ways, I envied the decisions ahead of him, and I began to consider removing a majority of my plants and starting over with a new plan.  The thought of building a new garden was exciting – so many more unique plants are available now than when I first began gardening, a wealth of new ideas for the type of garden I could create, a naturally xeric garden would be a blessing – but honesty ultimately made the decision for me.   Eventually, the decision may be easier to live with but, still, I wish I could have proceeded anew.

Some years ago I bought a Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Wilma Goldcrest’.  At the time of purchase (late summer), the plant was in a 1 gallon pot with an odd greenish tint to the yellow foliage, and was severely root-bound.  But, it was a bargain at 50% off so I couldn’t pass it up.   After an unsuccessful 30 minute struggle, a 2 hour soak in a large bucket of water, then extensive pruning of the congested root mass, I was at last able to plant the little tree in a large terra cotta container.  Overnight, the tree seemed to double in size.  It grew noticeably on a daily basis and within two months I decided that it had outgrown the container.  Just days before the first freeze of late autumn, I found a vacant spot in the garden that a tree of small stature would enhance, and there I planted ‘Wilma’.  The tree is now 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide and growing fast.  I love this tree and appreciate its decorous, symmetrical profile, but I must admit it has become too large for our landscape.   My spouse looks askance at the tree each time he walks up the path and I know what he’s thinking.   I see the way he visually measures the space the tree envelopes and I know what this winter will bring.   As I said, I love this tree and this is a decision I do not agree with but have to accept.  I console myself with the realization that soon a large empty space in our garden will need to be filled with new plants.    Still, I think of the condition of most conifers on earth and regret that this strong, healthy tree will be gone soon.   More than any other emotion, I feel guilt at taking out a thriving tree.  But, to prevent future problems, the tree will come down . . . but maybe, first, an arborist could help us decide if the tree will become a nuisance in the future.

Summer of 2014 was extremely long, hot, and dry.  Two large rain barrels supplied water for new ornamentals and container plants through the early weeks of summer; by July, they were empty.  Water use is a primary concern for me, and watering ornamental plants becomes more difficult to justify as each summer becomes longer, hotter, and dryer.   But the big water usage is for our food crops – and the more food I grow here the more city water we use, especially as we do not use rain barrel water for these crops.   I debate whether to continue to grow food at all, or to convert the vegetable beds into a xeric garden.  The advantages of growing our own food are many and well-known, but the responsibilities of, and effort involved in, growing food crops are even more numerous.   First and most important is safety; we control what we put on and in our soil.   We control pests and diseases without the use of pesticides or fungicides; we are selective with the seed stock and plant starts we purchase; our entire garden has been organically maintained since 1995; watering and weeding on a consistent schedule is central to ensuring a good harvest; and protecting crops from weather issues is a constant.   Whew!   But the water issue is one that I haven’t reconciled in my mind yet, and not just when I receive our summer water bill.  The extended drought that has effected much of the western region of our country for years is most likely the new normal.  As bad as water issues are now, future generations will have even more drought to contend with.  This is an issue I have struggled with for years, and one not easily resolved.

Gardening is in my DNA – “it’s in the bones”, as my Grandma used to say.  For all the concerns, problems, expense, time, labor, and thought that life-long gardening demands, there really is nothing that brings greater satisfaction than digging in the dirt, helping something grow, and knowing that my small plot of earth is healthy and vital.  I don’t know what will happen to this garden once I am no longer responsible for it, but for the time being I am pretty certain which direction I will take it in . . . that is, if I can make the decision!


Author: dphare2014

Horticulturist, Lead Steward Carkeek Park Demonstration Gardens, Author

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