by Mimi Hedl
I have a note in an old gardening journal. It says: “DON’T PANIC! It takes six weeks to put the gardens in order in spring.” I may need to revise that warning and add a week for each year past 70…
I haven’t panicked, but I haven’t let moss grow under me either. I pull weeds first with the right hand, then with the left. I leave piles of weeds along the pathways, too tired after my weeding ecstasy to go back and pick them up. Let them wait, I say. They’ll weigh less when I go back and pick them up in a day or two. I marvel at all the beautiful compost they’ll provide in a year or two and how I will covet every shovelful as I load the gold into my trusty wheelbarrow.
Usually I set strict boundaries for what I’ll do each day. I have goals, and I reach them. But sometimes, at least once a week, I want to do what I WANT to do and not what I NEED to do. I will give you two examples of projects totally unnecessary and perhaps frivolous, but that made me feel in control and happy.
Several years ago I began to turn the area under the 35-year-old sycamore tree into a woodland garden. The ninebark shrub had taken over much of the area under the sycamore, making it impossible to navigate that area. So I set a match to the area in the thick of winter, and transformed the area into a blank canvas. It took two years of steady weeding, digging out roots, to purge the area of the ninebark, a beloved shrub, just not there. (Incidentally, I read that in Central Park, in New York City, the gardeners had to employ a backhoe to pull out their ninebark that threatened to engulf the area … Living in the middle of nowhere does have its perks.)
Once the vestiges of the ninebark had disappeared, I began to introduce native, low-growing spring ephemerals, wild sweet Williams, Celandine poppy, Bush’s poppy mallow, meadow rue, squaw weed, our native columbine, fragile fern, lots of sedges, Solomon’s seal and so on. We had two successive years of spring and autumn drought, so this spring marked the first year I could make big strides, and I transplanted like a fool. Although not spectacular, I felt well-pleased with this spring’s showing, especially since so many seedlings lay hidden and will show their glory come next spring.
Another area, the entrance to the Medicinal garden, hosts annual foxtail and Canadian rye grasses. Though both of them lovely in their own right, they have no medicinal qualities and hide the plants that do. So down on all fours, I heft out these clump-forming grasses with ease. The soil here, enriched from years of mulch and compost, freely releases any plant except the deep-rooted ones. And grasses, especially annuals, have little claim on the earth.
The first wheelbarrow load took me one hour to produce. My enthusiasm seemed great and my energy equal. After lunch, when I went after the rest of the area, I started to wind down and it began to seem like a chore instead of a pleasure. I have the unfortunate quality of not stopping before I’ve completed a task, often to my harm. A bit of that obsessive/compulsive nature we all seem to have in some measure. I try to stop, but some force propels me forward. I do not resist.
I still have another 30 minutes to finish the entire area and more supervision over the next weeks, before the campanula americana, tall bellflower, germinates and begins to grow. I’ll walk by that area and bend over and pull the grasses I missed, breathing deeply. I’ve begun the eradication. I’ve worked on this area for two years. In another two years, all dormant seed should have germinated and unless I introduce another crop, this area should remain protected. Phewww!!!
Our goals, as gardeners, seem to be to protect areas from unwanted plants. We have to stay on our guard for intruders. And — get this — the very last plant I pulled at the end of a very long day, I mean the VERY last plant: poison ivy. I about fell out! A vine about 8-inches long. I pulled it with my skin-tight gloves. Immediately stood up, walked back to the house, washed my hands, with gloves still on, with my jewelweed/poison ivy soap, then took off the gloves and washed my hands with the soap. I have poison ivy on my knees from another encounter, but that would require another story.