I haven't reported a great deal on my garden this year, mostly because I've spent a lot of time actually making it happen. Having a sizeable backyard means that I no longer have to head out to Pittston (about eight miles south of my house) to work a garden plot on a friend's farm. Having easy access just outside my back door got me into the very nice habit this summer of getting up every morning and wandering about the garden in my backyard, seeing what was going on, and generally fussing about. Being able to check in on a garden on a daily basis is an enormous pleasure, and it allows you to keep tabs on things in a way that a once-a-week check-in doesn't. How much are the cucumbers growing? How are the lilies doing? How many tomatoes are ripe now? And so on.
This year, my flower garden has been sort of in holding pattern. My home's previous owners were an older couple, and one of the reasons that they sold the house is that they were unable to really keep the yards up any more. It's not that the yard is big, nor the house, for that matter; rather, they are both just big enough to be unmanageable for an older person, as I will find out some day. Therefore they let the garden go a bit, and it was overgrown and not well planned when I took possession. I took possession of the house in Novermber, so I didn't know how overgrown it was until the spring, when I suddenly realized that I had a Project on my hands.
This first year, the project has been minor, or at least it looks as if I've made minor progress. I've actually made a lot of progress when you add up what all I've done this first summer, but it doesn't necessarily look as if I have. Mostly I have had to let things go simply to find out what I'm dealing with. Now that I have a sense of what is planted and what's growing, I can make better plans for next summer. I've devised a five-year plan, which I think would drive a lot of people nuts in that they would want to the garden to look wonderful from the very beginning. Not me.
Some problems were obvious from the beginning. First, there were waaaaaay too many hostas growing everywhere, often in places where they would not allow easy access to flowerbeds. When you plant a hosta, it looks pretty innocuous, until it grows and spreads to its full size, and you suddenly realize that you're dealing with a potentially big plant. The plus side is that they are the easiest thing in the world to grow -- put in ground, go away, and let plant grow, in a nutshell -- which is why they're so popular. My solution to too many hostas was to move them all to the sloping north side of the house, which was overrun with false astilbe, a weedy kind of plant that the former owners let run amok. This required taking all of it out, which isn't an easy job; they grow from rhizomes so that the rootballs need to come out, and they are stubborn adn tenacious about staying put. So the hosta bed I now have looks pretty basic, but it was the hard-won fruit of much, much labor.
In general, the flower beds need work. Though I'm not a huge fan of flowers -- I would much rather grown things that I can eat rather than just look at -- I have found that I really do want flowers to look at, rose hips to gather, lavender to harvest, and so on. So I waited throughout the summer to see what would come up, and the answer is: not a lot. The beds were, I found out, mostly weeds or lots of the same flower gone to seed; I have evening primroses coming out my ears, for example, and though I like them, I don't like them that much. So I've mostly torn out the flower beds, and they await perennials from my friend Jan. Jan's mother, an avid gardener, is now in her 80s and can no longer maintain the massive garden she has planted for years now. So she instructed me to come over and take anything that I wanted and plant it in my garden, and my plan is to invite her over once or twice every summer so she can visit all of her plants in their new home. My friend Jayson has promised me some trillium from his garden up north at his family's camp somewhere north of Bangor, and in return he is coming for some trillium. Karl gave me black-eyed Susans and other perennials which I planted just to see how they would do. (Just fine, thank you.) Dan down the street is giving me lavender this fall when he divides his, and Carl has a couple of rugosa on his property that I will plant. And to fertilize all of this, I have the promise of a load of goat manure from my friend Marge, who runs a goat farm, which would explain why she has access to it. And this is generally how gardening is done everywhere, or ought to be: you never really need to spend anything on plants or flowers if you know the right people and are fond of perennials, as I am. They just keep growing, and gardeners have to divide them and get rid of them. If you have an empty flowerbed, simply let people know that it needs filling, and it will be filled.
I'm emphasizing perennials for the basic fact that they are less work. I don't have the time in the spring toward the end of the term when I'm doing that fast "grade papers-prepare conference paper-get lecture ready" dance to spend a lot of time planting bulbs and seeds, so my requirement for flowers is that they do their thing on their own with no help from me. In the front yard, that means old-fashioned flowers that I happen to love: black-eyed Susans, daisies, and coneflowers, to add to the phlox that's already there, and down the road, rugosa and lavender next to the hydrangea that thankfully bloomed this year. I did plant annuals in my flowerboxes (petunias) because, well, you have to.
In the backyard, the raised beds (which have stone retaining walls) will be filled with all kinds of perennials, depending on what I get from Jan. I've filled a relatively empty bed with daylilies from various other beds because I have a lot of them. Daylilies are like hostas; they just grow like crazy, whether you want them to or not, and they took over some beds that the previous owners had.
The other big project is moving things that the previous owners planted in odd places. My theory is that they were impulse buyers. They would go to a garden center, see something that they liked, buy it, and then take it home and plant it in a random spot to see how it would do. This is the only explanation I can com eup with for the presence of mums and morning glories in middle of the strawberry patch. An enormous peony bush is planted right up against the driveway so that I brush it every time I drive out or in, as is a sedum. A rhododendron bush is planted in full sun, where it's baking. And so on. I give the previous owners great credit: they left me a lot of great stuff to work with, but they mostly left it in inappropriate places.
I'm finding that I am taking pride and delight in making my front yard, my public face to the neighborhood, something staisfying to look at. I didn't think that I would care all that much, on the assumption that worrying about the grass and how nicely the flowers look was somehow hopelessly suburban. Maybe it is, and I don't care, which is just another way of saying that I'm truly a homeowner.