Sunday, June 29, 2014

Garden Detente: Patience, Persistence, Perseverance

“It is no use saying, ‘We are doing our best.’ You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary." -Winston Churchill
I have friends and relatives who have stood there motioning towards what used to be a beautiful garden, now overtaken by quack grass and thistles, saying, "I've tried and tried but just can't keep the weeds out." Or "Look, it's as if I never even weeded in there. Heck, I've said those things myself. It wasn't until I took the bull by the horns that I really made any headway.

Success relies on perseverance, but what does it take to persevere in the garden? Dale Carnegie said it best, "Flaming enthusiasm, backed up by horse sense and persistence, is the quality that most frequently makes for success." Yes, so you might as well till it under and cover it with sod (gasp!) if your heart isn't in it. You've got to love it, have a passion for gardening, and learn what you need to know to be successful.

Quack grass in the garden: persistent digging and the gentle, patient following of the root runners just under the surface. You won't get them all the first time you go in, no matter how thorough you think you've been. It's easier just after a rain or a good watering,  when the soil is workable, especially if you've got clay soil like I have. In addition you must eliminate the source. It is coming in at the borders?

There are many solutions for keeping the grass out at the borders such as plastic, poured concrete, brick, or stone but I prefer the trenching method. If you're unfamiliar with this method it is basically just as it sounds. I dig an eight inch wide trench around my gardens, which hinders grass from crossing into the garden. Once or twice a year you are to clear out any debris but I have been filling my trenches with coarse wood chips which look nice and allows the lawn mower to get close without slipping into the trench. every spring I clean that out and start fresh.  This method eliminates the need for trimming and allows for easy expansion of the garden which the other methods do not.

Thistles in the garden: I hate the Canada thistle. I once considered naming our property Thistle Down but that seemed just too defeatist. Instead, I return once again to the mantra: patience, persistence, perseverance. Part of patience is learning about your enemy. You can pull thistles until you're blue in the face, as well as red and blotchy on your arms and legs. Then tomorrow you'll look and they'll be back! Thistles have deep horizontal roots that send up shoots. You'll often notice a line of thistles coming off this one underground root. If you don't get to the thistles in time they also have those seeds in that fluffy down that can blow everywhere. Now, I don't care for using chemicals in the garden but this is one of the few cases where I often will resort to a broad spectrum herbicide if I can be sure I can use it safely, keeping it away from any of my more desirable plants.

I love to garden, but I love to enjoy my gardens even more. In order to do this I have found "tricks" and methods that work for me. I may use battle metaphors but always with peace and balance as the end goal. Stick with me and I'll give you some tips I use and also tell you some stories of garden disasters that may be even more helpful than my successes.

Problem: Too much lawn to mow >>> instant garden

I love gardening. I don't care to have much if anything to do with the lawn. If I could make the whole property into gardens I would, but my husband seems to think we should still keep some lawn areas. I suppose it is easier to play bocce ball on grass than on any kind of ground cover which really is true of almost any game unless I make a life sized chess board. The alternate squares could be a thick ground cover.  I'll put that on the to-do list. I have to keep lists or I'll forget. Thoughts and ideas flit around in my mind and it's all I can do to just capture a few here and there like butterflies in a net. The garden is where I display my most interesting finds.

There was this corner of our backyard that we were not using for anything other than that there is a clothes line across it. It has the woods behind it and borders the neighbors property on one side (which has been a different kind of challenge altogether). Over the winter I had read a book that inspired me called No Mow Lawns.  I really wanted a place that was all garden with shrubs and young trees that would grow and mature over time. I want to enjoy and appreciate every stage of the garden. Every corner has a story, a memory, a special meaning or purpose.
My husband had 5 yards of soil delivered  for Mother's Day. I was so happy. It went perfectly with the pile of wood chips that the tree trimmers had dumped in the adjacent spot on the driveway. Now, whenever I hear the sound of chainsaws in my neighborhood I wonder if I could make use of a pile of wood chips for a new project. It's not that unusual for me to get dirt as a gift. I once won a pile of manure as a door prize.
In addition to soil and wood chips I also set about collecting as much cardboard as I could.  I went from store to store and to the recycling center, really anywhere I could find boxes or paper.  I worked in sections, laying down as much cardboard as I had and covering it with a layer of either wood chips or an inch or two of soil with a general idea of the pattern of beds and winding paths in my head. I had pinned some ideas on Pinterest and wanted all areas accessible from a path at least for now.
I started with a serpentine path cutting the area diagonally from a patio to the corner over where our internet cable was shallowly buried. I had cut through the cable before on either end on separate occasions, having had to splice it together until the cable company could put in new line. and the neighbor cut through it once, leaving us without internet for a while. I wanted to be sure I wouldn't lose track of where that was as the landscape would be changing drastically.
I salvaged some paving stones from an area a previous owner had layed out which had been overtaken by the woods. The pavers would ensure I wouldn't be digging in the path and the serpentine arrangement of them made it a fun and whimsical addition. Next I knew I wanted a wide path from the garage through the garden to the rest of the backyard for the wheelbarrow and any other no nonsense traversing through the garden. The rest of the paths could be winding and narrow. As I got cardboard I'd fill in more of the garden. Sometimes it was frustrating not to be able to get more done as I was wondering where my next source of cardboard might be but it was probably a blessing in disguise because of my back problems. As long as I keep doing my core exercises then physical activity just serves to keep the blood circulating but there is such a thing as over-doing it.   I don't know what I'd do if I couldn't work in the garden, though.
As the garden began to take shape and I began to get a feel for where the sun and shade sections were I began to transplant. (How to transplant into the cardboard sections) The backyard, especially, has got to have only deer resistant plants. I love the deer. (Story) They're beautiful creatures but they can be a nuisance to some people around where I live so I plant perennials that they don't care to eat and we coexist peacefully. (Story) I checked through my list of plants for those I already had in my gardens that I could divide or move such as heliopsis, iris, menarda, campanulas, Russian sage, creeping jenny, peony, and many more (list).
Next I looked over the Master Gardener plant inventory list for our upcoming sale. I brought my wish list to the sale and found many, many plants like penstemon, leopard's bane, bleeding hearts, astilbe, ligularia, (list) and others. I included young dogwoods, viburnum, red buds, crab apples, and currents that I hope will survive the deer, the bunnies, the elements but are easily replaceable from the rest of the yard. I hope other shrubs and trees will be planted there by the birds in the future but for now I'm keeping a close watch on things as they become established.
Some areas I seeded as soon as I could with marigolds, daisies, zinnias and morning glories. It was a cold spring with surprise late frosts. I covered the seeded areas and was very pleased to see those first seedlings which slowly became big, beautiful flowering plants.
Some of the fun, fantastical, and also spiritual elements I included in the garden are a bottle tree with bottles contributed from family and friends (story), using the clothes line posts for climbing vines like morning glories and clematis, a prayer spiral of marigolds in which my sister hid a large piece of pink quartz in the middle, a salvaged stone bench from our recycling center, as well as pieces of another that just add ancient looking architectural elements to areas. My husband built me a darling little arbor that goes over the serpentine path. I'm still trying to get clematis to climb it, probably this year, now that the plants have had a year to establish roots. Sometimes there are plants we enjoy that the deer also just can't resist. This is where a rummage sale bird cage comes in very handy. One of my beautiful heuchera, coral bells, with variegated leaves is doing splendidly inside its protective cage while the other continues to be pruned occasionally by passers-by. (Other animal deterrents I've tried) (other whimsical aspects of the garden)
So, finally, the last pieces of cardboard were procured and the last loads of soil and chips were spread. I was amazed at how quickly and easily this corner went from lawn with a persistent creeping charlie problem to a welcoming garden.