Sunday, April 15, 2012

A gardener's apology

This is our fourth spring here, and it has taken me that long to develop an understanding of how little I actually know about gardening.

For sure, I have been diligent in my attempts to figure out what the heck I am doing, and I am learning all the time. But I think I am only just now at the point where I have learned enough to know how little I know. And that realization has grown hand in hand with a heartfelt appreciation for the skill and passion of the gardeners who came before me here at Mucky Boots.

Let me give you an example. When we got here I was irritated by all the valuable real estate taken up with flowering plants (yarrow, bee balm, lavender, daisies, poppies) in the vegetable garden. I was a serious gardener, darn it, and I wanted to grow vegetables. I learned to appreciate the beauty pretty quick, but it wasn't until I read my first book on companion planting this winter that I really understood the beneficial role all those flowers were playing, in warding off bad bugs and attracting good ones. When I closed the cover of the book I wanted to say "I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" for all the times I rolled my eyes at yet another yarrow plant tucked into the corner of a bed. Not to mention the medicinal value of many of those plants, which I am just starting to appreciate.

Here's another example: I have just recently learned that most perennials need regular dividing if they're going to stay healthy and productive. So I started to make a list of the ones I should think about dividing ASAP, given they haven't been done since we got here. What was on the list? Rhubarb, hostas and primulas, for a start. And then the penny dropped - that's why there's so much of all that stuff around here! We have rhubarb galore, way more than any two people can use - enough that the other day the father of our neighbour, looking over the fence, said in a voice full of awe, "That's a lot of rhubarb."

Some clever person, someone who knew about dividing perennials, divided those rhubarb plants faithfully until she ran out of room, then started putting it in the perennial beds, where it makes a colourful early show, with a nice coarse texture that complements all the finer stuff we seem to have. But there is no more room anywhere, and so I am going to have to be even cleverer: I am going to have to start giving it away.

And there are beautiful deep purple primulas everywhere, giving a wonderful spring boost of colour exactly when we most need it. I know darn well neither of the gardeners that came before me here would have spent all the money to buy that many plants - instead, they came for free through regular division.

Now, everywhere I look, I see echoes: Siberian irises here, and there, and there. Lilies by the house, by the pond, by the chicken coops. More astilbe plants than I can count. Globe thistle in every direction. I already feel surrounded by a chorus of plant life every time I walk down the verandah steps into the garden - now it's like a multiple exposure, where I'm seeing the fruit of all the work done by the gardeners that came before me, in each of the springs that came before this one.

Now it's my turn. Rhubarb, anyone?


A Brit in Tennessee said...

Ooh dear Miriam, if only I lived closer, I fear I would be stopping by with my wheelbarrow everyday, and unloading you of your excess anything :)
You are correct, gardening is indeed a science, balancing perennials and flowers, each a purpose into the grand scheme of growing.
I am always in awe of your spectacular produce, and hard work.

jeanives said...

brown-eyed susans were our divide all over the yard plant...and great for choking out weeds

Lyssa said...

You know, I don't think I've ever eaten rhubarb. I might have to change that.

It is always interesting to think about the people who had a place before, and why they did what they did. Our house was previously owned by someone who threw a lot of parties, and a lot of the plants in the front yard are the kind of things people would buy at a florist and bring over for hostess gifts (like poinsettias) - I imagine her out there the day after a fancy party planting her new acquisitions.

Lindsey at NW Backyard Veggies said...

I know what you mean about finding out how much you don't know about gardening. Although I think your heads and tails above me, here.

It's especially sucky when you realize you ripped out something that was actually something other than you thought it was. And that it should have been there.

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