Saturday, June 7, 2008

A swell top ten list for the new lazy gardener

Upon finishing up the second addendum to the last post, I went outside and sat in front of the garden, thinking about how uncomfortable I felt. "What is it I'm feeling?", I wondered. It took but a moment for the answer to come, in the form of an admonition: "Don't get a swelled head."

This is what I was always told when I took credit for anything, gave myself a compliment or received one from somebody else. My mother said it, my grandmother said it and my father said it, too. Three adults who played a major role in my life were telling me the same thing. You better not think too highly of yourself or you will become an asshole, or at least that how this young girl heard those words. What else was I to think? I knew my head wasn't going to literally swell up like a balloon, of course. They weren't going to tell me, directly, that I shouldn't have good thoughts about myself, but this old saw about the swelled head was an easy phrase to let fall off ones tongue. In my grandmother's time there were folks called "swells" who were rich and full of themselves, and I suppose that's where the expression came from. Tonight, I do not feel like googling it and finding out the exact etymology of this expression. I just feel like whining a little bit about being force fed with messages extolling the dangers of having any self esteem when I was a kid. I didn't have any. Thanks a lot, folks.

Okay, now that I've gotten that out of my system. Here is Julie's list of rules for a budding lazy gardener. It took me years to come to these conclusions, not a lot of gardening, but some, and a lot of reading, so listen up:

1. Don't mess about with plants that are not fit to grow in your zone. Know what your zone is. Be aware that there are also "micro-climates", such as the town that I live in, where it is generally ten degrees colder than every town around it. I won't even bother to grow lavender here, as much as I adore it, for it's too much of a risk, whereas it isn't at all just three miles down the road.

2. If there is a garden in the town you live in that you like, find out what grows in it. If they use a gardening service, skip it. If the garden is an old one, seriously try to find out what's in it. Old plants are successful plants.

3. Don't grow persnickety plants. If a plant has very specific needs, that means you will have to attend to it frequently. It also means that other plants may get overlooked.

4. Don't believe everything you read or hear. I did a semi-controlled experiment with two clematis plants (which are terribly needy and I gave up on). I planted one exactly as specified by the gardening center (which is a big red flag that this is a plant that needs coddling). I planted the other in a haphazard way. The second one did better. Neither of them did very well.

5. On the other hand, make it a point to buy a few plants from the oldest and best garden center in your area. Ask the oldest person there what plants do well and let them talk as much as they want. You'll learn a lot. And it's worth every single extra penny you spend over buying the same plants at the Walmart garden center.

6. If it needs full sun, it needs full sun. It it needs shade, it needs shade. Believe it. Don't wish it were otherwise.

7. Plant flowers that have the same soil requirements in the same bed. Or better yet, just plant flowers that don't have very specific soil requirements, like catmint, which will grow in just about everything and is beautiful.

8. Choose plants that have beautiful foliage. This is what you'll see most of the time. Plant a few plants for their flowers alone.
Unfortunately, most books and catalogs only show pictures of the flowers. Visit garden centers to see the plants in person before you make any decisions.

9. Don't take it too seriously. It's not food.

10. If at first it doesn't succeed, forget about it.

Art note: What image to use for this post? I was at a loss. Then, the idea of laziness, and the Absinthe Drinkers, by Degas, came to mind. What would be nicer than admiring your garden while sitting down with a nice cold glass of absinthe? Actually, I wouldn't know, for I've never had absinthe, but it sounds nice.

Instead, I found a painting, by Picassso, above, by the same name (without the s, for it is singular). I have never been a fan of Picasso. For some reason, knowing he was a complete jerk colored my opinion of him from an early age and I bet he had a terribly swelled head. But seriously, I find a good deal of his work to be murky, muddy and not terribly interesting. This one surprised me. Too bad he's one of the few artists that non-artists know of. This is not to say he wasn't masterful. He was, in many different styles.

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