Sunday, August 23, 2009
My gardening ideal: The English Cottage Garden
Supposedly one of the consolations of getting older is that people get less neurotic as they age. I don’t know if I’m less neurotic in general, but I sure am less neurotic as a gardener.
For one thing I don’t obsess about dead plants. My guess is that I’ve lost about one third of what I’ve planted. From my unscientific survey of other gardeners, this seems to be par for the course. I’ve accepted the fact that some plants (like some people) sicken and die before their time. It happens.
Also, I can deal with the fact that some of my friends think my garden is a chaotic mess. I’m more likely to get a negative reaction to my front garden since I eliminated the lawn several years ago. I get comments like, “this is a jungle!” or "this garden has no rhyme nor reason!” I really did try to plan the front garden with a restrained color scheme and repeated groupings of plants, but sometimes my friends just see chaos.
I’m the kind of gardener who wants to pack in as many plants as possible. Whereas some see a jungle, I see a wondrous profusion or (for all you English majors out there) what my husband refers to as “Uncorrupted Nature's omnipollent benefaction.”
Austere Japanese gardens have always left me cold; I love the colorful jumble of an English cottage garden. If my attempts to recreate an English cottage garden in my back yard fall short, so be it. I enjoy every minute playing around in my imperfect garden.
And those imperfections include the holes slugs chew in my hosta leaves, black spot on the roses, and powdery mildew on the phlox. I don’t use pesticides. There have been quite a few times when I’ve had a particularly bad infestation and I decided I'd had enough of this organic gardening.
I’d go to a garden center and came home with some toxic substance, but then I would lose my nerve. Sure I wanted to get rid of the thrips on my glads, but I didn’t want to harm all the birds and butterflies.
This pattern of buying deadly poisons and then shrinking from actually using them has been repeated many times. I now have a cabinet filled with really toxic stuff that I need to figure out how to safely dispose of. But I am no longer tempted to seek a final solution for my garden pests and don’t expect to be buying deadly poison again!
So my garden tips: accept imperfection. Plants will die and gardens will sometimes get out of control despite your best efforts. A chewed leaf or two is worth it to keep the birds, butterflies and beneficial insects happy!
It took me a lot longer than it should have to get to this state of acceptance, but I think I’m there.