May really is the merriest month, and if you are a gardener, no matter what zone you live in, it can also be the most dangerous time of year. The garden centers are starting to bring in their flats of summer annuals and hanging baskets.
Visit any nursery anywhere and everything is a riot of color. The petunias are looking all perky and pretty in their spring finery,
their vivid colors saying buy me, buy me….but beware! They require commitment….lots of commitment. This year I intend to save myself a summer of watering and weeding and fertilizing and deadheading and just say no. I will not succumb, I will be strong.
I am at the point in my gardening life where taking care of plants has become burdensome. I enjoyed it when I was working, although I did not always have the time and my flowers suffered for it. It was a respite to dig in dirt on my days off, a mindless occupation which did not require too much thought. One year I had eleven hanging baskets, (what was I thinking), and twenty rose and hydrangea bushes I was trying to get started, but it was too hot to water at ten in the morning when I got up, and it was dark when I returned home from work. But that was also the year my plants looked their best, because I gave up and hired someone in the neighborhood to water them.
It finally got too expensive, (it was a drought year), but I must admit it was a joy to have hanging baskets still vibrant in late September, instead of raggedy, dried out and dead by the end of July.
Paradoxically, now that I am retired and have more time, I am starting to consider gardening a chore and I don’t think I am alone in this. A few years ago I found an abandoned garden cart at the side of the road, (which I brought home and spray painted lime green to hide the sunflower yellow).
My idea was to get some of the pots up off the ground and out of reach of the bunnies which had multiplied like crazy that year. The homeowner told me to take it, it was free. She even delivered it so desperate was she to get it out of her sight. Having to water all those pots was just too much trouble when they were busy travelling all summer. I didn’t understand at the time, (a few pots?) but now I do.
At this stage in my gardening life I’d much rather read about gardening than do it. I’m ready to leave the pretty plants to someone else, not to mention the sweat and hard work, and live vicariously through someone else’s planting adventures. This gardening book Elizabeth and her German Garden, was first published in 1898 but is still timeless today. (see Enchanted April blog for more about the author).
Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A bestseller when it was first released in 1898, this book remains a gardening classic. Of course back then there were the necessary servants and gardeners to do all the hard work, still it remains an entertaining read, and proof that the love of gardening never changes.
Luckily, most of the things in my yard, are easy care – roses and hydrangeas and peonies and lilacs. I like all the old-fashioned flowers our grandmothers had. I have mostly pinks, (double pink Knock-Out roses around both front and back decks), some lavenders (French and English and Rose of Sharon) and a few blues (hydrangeas if the soil cooperates and some struggling delphiniums). I like the look of an English garden with tall waving blooms, (so Downton Abbeyish), but have not had much success with this scheme. Phlox, not good, lupines, disappeared, foxglove awaiting judgement. This year I intend to buy flower seedlings at the farmer’s market as I realized last year they had a better selection and were much cheaper than the nurseries.
Plants can be divided into high maintenance (those that whine please deadhead me, fertilize me, give me a drink), and low maintenance, (those that can take care of themselves). Lavender is as low maintenance as it gets, (it loves drought), plus it’s cheap and smells wonderful.
Heather is also supposed to be a hardy plant, so after spying some flowering on a neighbors lawn while out for an early spring walk, I purchased a ten dollar pot and plopped it in the ground. Odds are it will end up neglected but I’m having visions of Heathcliff and the moors next spring…..
The other reason for not buying as much this year is the price – it just gets too expensive, so I will be haunting the plant sales. When the horticultural society holds its annual plant sale for two dollars, I’ll be there. I’ll even get out of bed early before the best ones are gone. (Well I was there by noon and got six pots of purple and yellow iris, a few bluebells and a twig they said was a Rose of Sharon which I suspect might already be dead, but all for a grand total of six dollars, everything is half price after noon, another reason not to get out of bed).
Impatiens have fallen out of favor here due to a widespread blight, but they have now come out with a hardier strain, so last year I did my own hanging baskets with a flat from a popup nursery and the end result was cheap and cheerful.
The only seeds I usually plant are blue morning glories along the back fence, which almost always put on a glorious show, although they can be very late in the year, (see A Glorious September Morning blog), and this year I’m going to try wildflowers again.
Although I don’t expect it will look like the meadow on the front of the seed packet, I did have some luck one year and it was an inexpensive solution for a poorly drained back corner. Last year I put in glads for the first time, and dug up the bulbs in the fall, but they were pulpy looking when I took them out of storage, so they will need to be replaced.
But I plan on limiting myself to four baskets of geraniums from the garden centers, two for the front urns, and two for the back deck, no more…..fingers crossed.
My only splurge will be a yellow with pink centre hibiscus bush, because it looks so exotic like the tropics, and my neighbor got one last year but I always seem to be behind on the garden trends.
One year I bought a bougainvillea plant,
lured by it’s vivid pinkness, but I do not live in the right zone for tropical plants. It overwintered indoors fine the first year, and even bloomed in February but then it got all spindly and shed until it was moved south to the garbage bin.
So goodbye, farewell, annuals at the garden centre.
I hope you find a good home somewhere else….stay strong!
Progress report to date: 8 hollyhocks at farmers market $3 total, horticultural society plant sale iris & twig $6, one pot of campanula because it looked so purple but when I went to plant it the entire head of flowers fell off ($5 wasted),
six pots of lavender ($3.50 each to replace the ones which didn’t survive our harsh winter),
and my regular bright pink geraniums ($14) which came in a pink pot this year. Why didn’t someone think of matching colored pots sooner instead of those boring taupe things?
The Resistance: a Pink Knock-Out Rose Tree which at $99 is difficult to justify as I already have lots of $20 rose bushes, but there is a bare spot in one corner…..
The Debate: this years hibiscus flavor – Fiesta? Maybe if it goes on sale….
Postscript: The best gardener of all, and the cheapest, is good old Mother Nature!