Gardening Encouragement

I have been looking out on the garden this week with something like despair.

The weather is either too hot to work outside for more than a few minutes—or it’s warm but lovely. The problem is that this is occurring diametrically opposite my schedule, so the days when I can actually work outside, it’s about ninety-five and the days that I have to get work stuff done Right This Minute, it is a day as glorious as any in recent memory.

These are the days when I realize that all those gardening books that say hardscaping is critical aren’t just making work for the landscaping industry. Where I have managed to clean up the paths, getting rid of sweet gum seedlings and goosegrass and whatnot, the garden looks…better. Still weedy, still with parched and holed foliage in places, still with cut off stumps where I went mad with the pruners screaming “YOU WILL FLOP NO MORE!” But intentional.

Where the paths are overrun with weeds and need a good smothering, I’m overcome with “Oh god, I’m not a gardener, I have created a total mess, this is horrible it will take men with backhoes to fix this it’s awful the horror the horror.”

This sort of thing actually is easily fixed, given sweat, gloves, and wheelbarrows of bark chips, but it does require the ability to be out in the garden for more than ten minutes without suffering heat stroke. I have managed to clean up and mulch as far as the melons. The melons have eaten the path. I am having to move them out of the way to get the wheelbarrow through, and now I’ve gotten to a patch I’m afraid to move for fear that I’ll damage the growing melons. (The variety is called “Tigger” and it is small and supposed to turn bright orange when ripe. I am also growing Yugoslavian Finger Melons, because I frequently buy seeds based on how awesome the names are.)

So, depending on where you stand, it is either a pretty decent garden in the throes of summer heat, or a miserable green hell. My mood is now controlled primarily by what window I’m looking out of, which is why I made sure to clean the path outside my studio window first.

Today was one of the lovely days. We got out with the weed torch and roasted all the goosegrass sinking roots into the gravel driveway. (Gravel is a fool’s game for paths around here, if my experience with the driveway is any indication.) Afterwards, my husband and I flopped down on the front steps, and I looked at the unweeded path through the front yard, which had tulip poplar and mulberry and sundry other thugs, patches of white clover, and a mallow seedling that I should really transplant somewhere better because it’s not a bad plant, it just shouldn’t be THERE.

And I sighed.

“Is my garden…well…cool?” I asked. “Or is it just this weed-infested disaster area?”

My husband considered this.

“I think it’s beautiful,” he said. “I can’t tell what’s weeds. It’s colorful and there’s flowers everywhere and you’ve got butterflies and you can’t get away from the dragonflies, and the bees really like it.”

Well, he’s right about the dragonflies. I was actually afraid for them when using the weed torch, which is basically a small flamethrower, and the dragonflies were quite interested in it. Then a female began laying eggs in the temporary puddle formed by the hose, which I always keep on hand while using fire in the yard. “Nooooo!” I said. “It’ll be dry in an hour! Don’t waste eggs!”

And then I think well, from her perspective, where else is there? The pond is full of larvae already, the rain barrel has several dragonfly larvae raising hell among the tadpoles, two or three pots that hold water-loving plants are chock full of frog eggs. The temporary lakes formed by the heavy rains in spring are gone. From a dragonfly perspective, it’s probably worth dropping a few eggs anywhere that looks tempting, because you have very few options that a whole bunch of other dragonflies haven’t gotten to first. We have an embarrassment of dragonflies.

And there are certainly bees—hundreds of bees, native bees everywhere, bumblebees and big huge mason bees, honeybees from the neighbor’s hive, tiny little sweat bees. There are bees that I can’t begin to name, most of which yield good naturedly when I brush down the sidewalk, through the overgrown path.

We sat on the front steps, and there were six tiger swallowtails—two of them dark-morph females—feeding on the starry rosinweed. A silver-spotted skipper bounced by.

Eventually we cooled off and went inside.

And you know, I felt better. And I wonder sometimes what it would be like if I could look at the garden, and not know what the weeds are, and just appreciate that it’s green and lush and alive.

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  1. says

    I think about that all the time, how I long for the ability to see the garden as it is and not as it is supposed to be. It’s a real discipline to turn off the designer / weeder / gardener filter and just see how things look. I like your husband’s beautifully simple description of what he sees.

    Love how you write!
    Laurrie recently posted..We Are Amused

  2. says

    Thank you for this. I have been struggling with the same dilemma this year as the “jungle” continues to grow around me and seemingly swallow the house, the shed, the workshop … I love your husband’s perspective. I am trying to make paths among my plantings as well for better “management.” I don’t think I have ever grown so many weeds. I have many birds and bees but sadly no butterflies this year.

  3. says

    I completely understand the despair, being a very visually oriented person who is emotionally and cognitively affected by how things around me look. My aesthetic standards are not about cleanliness and order so much as about beauty. I’m really working on just accepting things as they are in all my surroundings, including my garden.

    And with the garden I try to remember that the critters I’m gardening for certainly don’t care about the visual elements I care about. Their sensory world is so different, and the elements they are drawn to have to do with their survival needs. Imagine how much more beautiful your garden is to them than a well-manicured expanse of lawn with a smattering of a few non-native shrubs and annuals. Your mind-of-its-own “jungle” has more value to them than several hundred lawns, I would think. I encourage you to embrace the disorder of nature when you can’t control it!

  4. says

    What a well written piece. August 3rd our community at Univercity, Burnaby, BC ,amidst a conservation forest hosted a native plant rescue. These are planned about every 2 years as our community grows. I wasn’t around to participate unfortunately. Your article made me remember my neighbors. Your story renewed my curiosity in our wildlife gardens with descriptions of bees and butterflies. Thank You!

  5. says

    Well, I am not working this summer, but am staying up too late on the computer, then taking too long to get out in the morning. I can’t take the heat like I used to be able to, so I am behind, too. I have been able to weed enough that the weeds don’t get huge, though except for some in the vegetable garden. I also have a couple flower beds at church, and have noticed that like your husband, most there don’t seem to know which are weeds and which are flowers. Although, one woman asked me who takes care of an area outside a window, and pointed out the bindweed, which I haven’t made it over to pull.

    I hope the weather cooperates with you better so you can be out in the garden. Yes, seeing the critters is a blessing.
    Corner Garden Sue recently posted..July’s Wildflower Wednesday

  6. Kathleen says

    Although I love to read books, articles and blogs about the science and “how to’s” of native plant and wildlife gardening, the human emotions involved with gardening often get overlooked. Most people landscape their yards to fit into a community aesthetic. If you are gardening for another reason, you are already out of the main stream.

    I think it is easy for wildlife gardeners to feel guilty about the shaggy messes that native plants often make. You have probably given over more space to woody plants and herbaceous perennials than anyone thought possible! You have probably left bare ground (for ground nesting insects) where others would pour concrete and lay pavers. You have resisted the temptation to use chemicals for fast results.

    We do need to give each other encouragement and support. It may look messy but it might be saving wildlife. Thanks a lot for your post.

  7. says

    Ah Ursula! Your garden sounds lovely! As I hike, trying to find new plants to identify, I look at my woodsy world with simple eyes, not knowing desirable from weedy. I try to be accepting of all! You are attracting things that matter. Use simple eyes! Loved reading your post! Don’t be frustrated – you are doing much good!

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