Slow down … be happy


I hate trends, jargon, psycho babble, and landscape architect-speak (curvilinear, spatial planes, and such). “Studies” bother me.

DSC00118My wife recently prepared a talk for a public speaking course about studies that show health and intellectual benefits from being in the garden. I can’t imagine how you can put a number on this, but they did, and the benefits were considerable. I know that I’m happier in the garden, but my wife can testify that it certainly hasn’t made me any smarter.

P1011495I’ve seen some recent blogs about a “Slow gardening” movement, and I’m sure that the fellow who named the trend has probably been practicing it long before. I’ve been “slow” forever, but figure as a gardener that I’m stuck somewhere in between. I had to move from my last house when I ran out of room to garden, so in the new place (twenty years “new”) I have too much of everything. Plants are too tall, too wide, scratchy, floppy, too shady, grow too fast or slow, but I’m obsessed and determined to cover every square inch of my little space on the the planet.

With too many plants and too much ground to cover, March and April are near panic, not “slow gardening”. Otherwise, the place is an ungodly mess. When it’s well under control (to my thinking), you’d likely still think that it’s a jungle.P1011484

I reap the rewards beginning in May. The work is never done, but as I meander through the garden most afternoons I’ll pull a couple weeds, prune a wayward branch or two, and take care of a handful of odds and ends that are too trivial to be called work. Then, I’ll plop down on a bench or stonewall, or float my little raft out in the swimming pond, and vegetate, chill out, relax. A few short weeks of hard labor buy six months of paradise.

P1011400aWhat do you do when you get there? Flowers are nice, but there’s so much more. I can wander for an afternoon, amazed at buds, or leaves. Mesmerized by koi, a dragonfly zipping to and fro, or a tussle for territory in the pond by two frogs bellowing for a mate. Watching a hawk gliding on the breezes far overhead, or making his getaway with smaller birds in hot pursuit. What crimes has he committed?

I try not to be too organized or follow rules (or common sense?) too closely. There’s plenty of time for that in my life away from the garden. I want to enjoy each moment, but I can’t help anticipating the peonies, or the unfolding P1011408buds of iris. Redbuds were later than average this year, but the native dogwoods right on time. The garden journal documents the ebb and flow within the garden, encouraging me to follow the interaction between weather and flowers and leaves, to witness the delights and failures through the seasons, and compare over decades.

I choose this frenetic pace to feed my compulsion. I “need” one (or more) of everything, not only the newest, but the oddest, the one with the biggest leaves, and the one that probably won’t live around here, but “what the heck”. I’ll forsake my sanity for a month (or two) to keep it the other eleven. Rushing back and forth in March to finish the day’s tasks prior to the late Winter sunset, there’s always time to stop (usually gasping for air) and appreciate the delights that each season brings to the garden.

Which brings us to the garden today.P1011502

The flower buds of Big Leaf magnolia ( Magnolia macrophylla) are swelling, ready to unveil their huge blossoms. They last but a few days, but I await their arrival each year. The tree is coarse textured, not beautiful in leaf or flower, and far too large for most gardens, but I know of no other tree with larger leaves, so of course I must have it.

P1011501In contrast, Goldenchain Tree (Laburnum x watereri) is reluctant to grow in the heat of my northern Virginia garden, though it has been given partial shade in an attempt to provide a cooler and more hospitable home. My goldenchain is a weeping variety, grows and blooms sparsely, but is surviving against all good judgment by the foolish gardener.

All the hostas have returned, even the ones repeatedly eaten to the ground by deer the past couple years. The leaves are smaller, much like when they were newly planted and less vigorous, but if I can keep the deer away they will be full size next year.P1011518

Visitors to my garden often remark on the huge leaves of hostas that are inaccessible to deer, and theirs’ never grow so large. As if I had some secret formula, or applied compost or manure tea, or some such potion to get such dramatic results. The credit belongs elsewhere. I plant and forget.P1011511

‘Black Lace’ elderberry, planted earlier this Spring, is blooming. I planted a yellow leafed elderberry some years ago, but it faded through the Summer. I’ve seen Black Lace in southern nurseries in the Summer, so I have a measure of confidence that it will do well. The dark leaves are dissected much like a Japanese maple’s.P1011506

Another plant with dark foliage blooming now is the ninebark ‘Diablo’ (Physocarpus). Mine is planted on the shady side of a border planting of flowering trees and large evergreens, so it holds its color through the Summer rather than fading to green. A wide spreading Silver Cloud redbud is planted in front, so its ill mannered form is mostly concealed.P1011479

Most of the roses are in bloom (Sunny Knockout above). I have no interest in planting varieties that require any care other than cutting them down to size every year or two, so I have planted Knockout roses, Flower Carpet (which I have found very disappointing), Home Run (sad foliage), and Drift roses (planted last year, so too early for a verdict).  Rainbow Knockout has proven troublesome, but otherwise, Knockouts have proven to be wonderful flowering shrubs. For doubters, forget that it’s a rose. You’ll be happy that you planted a Knockout.

And, of course, this is why we garden, slow or otherwise.

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