Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Reflections of another 60 something gardener

From my good friend Fran Waksler:

My first serious gardening took place in a tiny plot behind our rented apartment. It didn’t allow for much scope but gave me a place to practice gardening. When we bought our house in Cambridge, MA, room for a garden was essential and we managed to get a place two house lots big. The yard, however, was a disaster. As I was looking at it and deliberating over where to begin, my friend and contractor came up and said, “You know what this yard needs?” “What?” “An old car on cement blocks.” He was right, that was the condition of the yard.

The back yard is now pretty much the way I want it—lawn, ferns, trees (a birch, a redbud, a crabapple), clematis gone wild, phlox, beach plums and grape vines (for jelly)--no longer suitable for an old car on cement blocks.

One of my many first projects, and one with which I am particularly pleased, was the narrow path on the north side of the house. It was overgrown with tangles of tall weeds. There was scraggly grass down the middle, impossible to mow because of limited space, sharing the path with moss. I finally decided that I would get rid of the grass and encourage the moss. It took a few years of weeding the moss of grass—fortunately I find weeding relaxing and rewarding—but now the path needs only minimal work. The heat has been hard on it this year, and I’m always walking on it, but rain—and an occasional application of sour milk--eventually brings it back.

The Concord grapevine grew from cuttings from a vine in the back yard that I threw on the north side to compost and then forgot about. Neglect can be a wonderful friend. The vine now has its own arched trellis and provides even more grapes for jelly. It fights with the wisteria but with pitiless pruning both behave themselves. And the ferns need little care, just an occasional curb to their enthusiasm.

I’ve never seen chaos in Karen’s garden, just lush abundance. Unlike Karen, however, who “wants to pack in as many plants as possible”, I think of myself as a minimalist. I like lots of green, even if the dogs playing means that I never have quite as much lawn as I’d like. Fortunately the volunteers (phlox, petunias, and—lucky me—clematis) in the back and front yards work to counteract my somewhat bland inclinations.

What has been most useful to me as I garden on in my 60s? A chiropractor, a homeopath, 3 days a week at the gym, a battery-operated lawnmower, a kneeling pad, sharp pruning sheers, and a realization that I’ll always be running behind and that’s ok.

I never had the ambitious garden that Karen had so I’ve stayed with some flowers but lots of green—grass, ferns, moss. I still do some things the old way (in line with my still drying clothes on a line instead of in a dryer).

My current project is handweeding the lawn—labor intensive but very rewarding. I thought it might be a crazy thing to do, but my arborist, who is in his 80s, said that’s how they always did it in the old days. No weed killer and lots of compost if I get to the weeds before they seed.

It’s been 36 years now and I’m still hoping to get caught up. Every year I fall short of what I hope to accomplish. Still, when I sit in the yard in the morning with my coffee I try to refuse the impulse to take stock of what needs doing and appreciate what’s doing thriving. I’ll try to take Karen’s advice: accept imperfection.

1 comment:

  1. Your gardening sounds about ten gradations above mine, I like the idea of being a minimalist. Karen's garden is beautiful and pungent but looks to be kept by a cadre of gardeners.
    I was curious about your previous blog about your interest in dog training. I am not retired but as a empty nester have much more time on my hands.