Monday, May 30, 2011

Field of Greens

In the cool mist of morning, under azure skies, I summoned my courage and my equipment, put on my protective armor, and set out to do battle on a Field of Greens...with Creeping Charlie rampant.

In other words, I set out to finally weed the flower gardens. With a tank-top and a sprayed-on double coat of sunblock and bug spray. When you added in the layer of sweat that came with the adventure, if any bug came in for a landing he was going to slide right off and sprain a wing.

Remember, I am still new to this "gardening thing." Over the past four summers, sparked by loving a man who solves every landscaping challenge by planting another flower bed, vast stretches of my yard have been turned into verdant collections of flowers nestled in shredded cedar. There was that first ground-breaking bed of perennials that transformed a couple hundred square feet of river rock over weedy black plastic into a lush paradise for birds and gophers...and won my heart. The former decaying woodpile that, burned to ash and rototilled to oblivion, now hosts a collection of irises and poppies and sunflowers. The garden around the raised septic tank cap that solved the problem of how to cut around it with a lawn mower. The smaller garden surrounding the fake boulder hiding the well cap, solving THAT lawn mowing problem. It looks like I have a miniature version of the Rock of Gibraltar sitting between the house and the garage...but the butterflies that land on it aren't complaining. And we can't leave out the gardens along both sides of the house, one of them devoted to daylilies and columbines, the other to butterfly bushes and hollyhocks.

As I was putting them in, happily running to the nursery for more plants, hauling many cubic yards of mulch home from the hardware store, choosing between perky floral visors and pastel gardening gloves, nobody mentioned I was going to have to keep weeding them. Apparently a two-inch top layer of cedar chips does not have the same weed retardent property as, say, asphalt. And just as I can turn a blind eye for quite a while to the drifts of dog hair and cat fluff that collect in the corners of the living room and the angle of the stairs, I can walk right past a lot of weeds and not notice that they're there.

There is, however, always a tipping point, and that was reached this weekend. Not only had I finally disposed of the last of a quartet of projects that had kept me chained to my computer for the better part of four months as the snows finally melted, this coincided with the arrival of the dandelions, whose cheery yellow heads drew my eye toward the gardens where they were settling in. I pulled one, then another, then another. And just like stripping wallpaper, there's no such thing as just doing a little at a time.

So Sunday morning dawned, and I girded for battle. After four years of this, I've learned a few tricks. Start in the cool of the morning, and keep to the shade. Music is essential, so out came the boom box, a patio end table, and a thirty foot extension cord. It was a little early in the day for a malt cooler (and I was absolutely NOT starting with an Absolut screwdriver at nine in the morning), but an iced tea kept the boom box company. The wheelbarrow came out too, and the gardening gloves, and the skinny hand shovel for assorted miscellany. Lucky did his part too, chasing blackbirds and deer out of the yard, chewing on tough stalks of last year's daylilies, flopping down in the soft bed of dianthus, finding it more inviting this year than the lavender.

I started with the very worst of the lot, the stretch of butterfly bushes and hollyhocks. Dear god, there were strange tall weeds--and lots of them--that were more than a foot tall. Along with the dandelions, of course, and clover, and the pervasive, invasive, strangling mint called "Creeping Charlie" that had moved in seemingly out of nowhere from the lawn. Well, that wasn't entirely true, I thought. Earlier this spring, I'd taken a whole ten minutes to spray a line of Roundup around the edges of the gardens on a still day, trying to stay a step ahead of the emerging crabgrass. But Mother Nature abhors a vacuum, and while the crabgrass had indeed been beaten back, it appeared that everything else under the sun had moved in.

The work was slow, and hot, and sweat mixed with sunblock dripped off my forehead and on to my glasses. Once in a while I gave up bending over at the waist, and finally dropped to my knees to give my back a break. The pile of limp weeds in the wheelbarrow grew higher and higher, and I took occasional work breaks in a plastic lawn chair, surveying my progress. The task at times seemed endless...but oh, the discoveries! The understoryheld such a story.

Under that dense canopy layer of weeds, mint and dandelion fluff, a half dozen new butterfly bushes had seeded themselves and begun to flourish. I dug them out and potted them to share. The hollyhocks had similarly spread their bounty as well, and dozens of little sprouts beckoned to be replanted far and wide. Moving down the line to a stretch of coneflowers, I found that there were more of those than had been last fall...and that the profusion of black-eyed susans that greeted me were perfect for filling in that sparse bed. Irony abounded at the thought that the day before, I'd bought more than a dozen snapdragons to plant between the rose bushes...and hadn't checked to see how many were already growing freely from last year's seeds.

The roses were the biggest surprise of all this year, simply because they were still alive. Winter is harsh here, and the temps dip to twenty below zero at least once or twice a year. It's a place where responsible gardeners cut back their bushes in fall and swaddle them in leaves and styrofoam cones to protect them from winter's harsh bite. Unfortunately, I found myself busy and distracted last fall, and when I finally turned around and thought about covering the roses, the snow had done that already. "Oops," I thought ruefully. Well this would give me an excuse to shop for new ones in spring.

When the Jackson & Perkins rose catalog first arrived, I drooled over it, in fact, like a teenage boy with a copy of Playboy. But to my great surprise, every single one of my "Lazarus roses" actually made it through. There's a lesson there somewhere, regarding resiliance, or adversity, or never giving up hope, or perhaps all three, and I think that it applies pretty well to people too.

At any rate, I finally put away the boom box, dumped the weed collection into the "burn pile," sprayed the rose bushes to keep away the aphids that were starting to congregate on soft new stems, and parked the wheelbarrow by the garage. A hot shower stripped away all the magical chemical protections against sun and bugs, but left me suitable to sit on the living room sofa again.

I'm not done of course, yet. With a garden, I've learned, there is no such thing as "done," until winter. But for the moment, I've beaten back the invaders. And at last count, at least, the coneflowers are holding their own.

1 comment:

Cheryl in Wisconsin said...

What a poetic tribute to a day in the yard. You've inspired me to go put some more energy into mine. It truly is worth it. And never ending.