Careful neglect

More than a few times, I’ve erred on the side of excess optimism in advising that one plant or another is rugged, or difficult to kill. Of course, any plant can be killed by chemical means, or by ill timed neglect. Of this, I’ve been guilty, and since some attention to detail is required with new plants, it’s likely I’ll kill something unnecessarily again. But, while I cannot claim to speak for anyone except myself, I consider that there is merit in careful neglect in maintenance of the garden.

Chocolate Joe Pye, liriope, and violets cover the ground to prevent weeds.

Chocolate Joe Pye, liriope, and violets cover the ground to prevent weeds.

While this garden has undeniably suffered through a late summer drought without irrigation, I was watchful, and ready to drag the hoses out if there was ever a matter of life and death. I was confident (mostly) that the garden would survive without any effort on my part, but my lack of action was confirmed by daily observation.

I suspect there are gardeners who kill with kindness, and have no doubt that too much of this (water) or that (fertilizer) are responsible for many plants that experience highs and lows as they are artificially stimulated. Nature is the primary stimulant in this garden, though I am at the ready to slowly respond if necessary. I will not claim that this garden is better than any for my lack of effort, but certainly it is as good as many, and most importantly, the garden does not require more of my time than I’m willing to give.

Sprawling shrubs such as this white berried Beautyberry shade damp ground that would be covered with weeds.

Sprawling shrubs such as this white berried Beautyberry shade damp ground that would be covered with weeds.

I hope not to give the impression that the garden is just thrown together, then left to fend for itself. Occasionally, something is planted without proper forethought, and there are times when a plant is forced into a situation that is less than ideal. I cannot imagine a garden without problems that the gardener must regularly address, but the goal, and for the most part, the result is that this garden thrives with a little thoughtfulness and as little effort as I can get away with. Though not indestructible, I find that most plants are far tougher than gardeners give them credit for.

Long before talk of sustainable landscapes, the right plant in the right place made perfect sense. When the gardener errs, he should be quick to move a plant that is struggling. If I have judged incorrectly, planting a hydrangea that shows signs of a bit too much exposure to the late afternoon summer sun, I should move it. Perhaps not into shade where the hydrangea might suffer from too little sunlight, but maybe move it a few feet to a less exposed spot. There, it might thrive without any attention, and through proper planning (or blind luck) most plants in this garden require nothing at all, no pruning, and certainly no fertilizing.

Toad lilies and other perennials are tucked between shrubs , minimizing maintenance and adding flowers in late summer and early autumn.

Toad lilies and other perennials are tucked between shrubs , minimizing maintenance and adding flowers in late summer and early autumn.

The key to planting in the right place is to know your plant, it’s ideal sunlight exposure and soil dampness (or dryness), and how these preferences relate to your garden. Keep in mind, preferences are not absolutes. There is some combination of too much sunlight that can be overridden by a bit more soil moisture. Toad lilies (Tricyrtis, above) are recommended for shaded sites, but with proper moisture (not too much) flowering will be heavier and plants will grow stockier than in a shaded spot. This is all well until we experience six weeks of ninety-five degree temperatures with hardly a drop of rain, but this late summer has not been typical, and most years the toad lilies will not suffer at all.

The end goal is to place plants where they don’t require constant (or any) attention, and even if you must have a few finicky plants, you’re not overwhelmed by having to do a little something with everything. By doing this I’m able to manage an acre of garden without spending every waking hours keeping up with chores. Yes, I neglect a few, but carefully.

 

 

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