Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I love her, I love her not

If it's the end of April, that means my love/hate relationship with my garden is starting to turn closer to the hate side. It's my own fault. I have what is considered by some as a fairly "ambitious" garden. My love of a beautiful garden drove me 12 years ago when we bought this house to create a vision that in reality would require the assistance of at least one other full-time body to maintain. Oh to live near the Mexican border! My friend Peggy lives in Austin, Texas and almost everyone in her neighbourhood has a helper from Mexico. And they work for a pittance. (I'm not saying this is right or wrong - just stating the facts ma'am.) Hiring help here in Toronto is more than a pittance, so I toil alone. My husband pitches in quite a bit, but even that is not enough. Yesterday, I spent the day spreading top soil and grass seed all over the weaker parts of the lawn, after raking debris spread about by the previous day's high winds. It was the third time I have raked the damn thing in the last two weeks. (it's been windy, and we have a lot of very old tall trees). After the raking, spreading and seeding was in place, I made a futile attempt to turn on the sprinkler system. I watch the experts I hire do it every spring, I figured I now knew how to do it myself. Why pay for nothing? Well, it turns out I must have missed a secret step they take or something, because it would not start up. By then, it was 8:00 pm and I was dirty and tired and getting grumpier by the minute because the manual for the system was no where to be found (I'll have to look again this morning). As anyone who knows anything about planting grass seed will tell you, the secret to germination is to keep it moist. Dry seed will not sprout. I have to get it wetted down today, or all my effort will have been in vain. I have been working in my garden for about a month already this season. I've heard there are actually folks who don't lift a trowel until the long weekend in May. Amateurs! These are the people who plant a few petunias or impatiens in an afternoon and then sit back for the rest of the summer and relax. I cannot relate. If I plant annuals at all, it only to fill in a spot or fill an urn or pot. Perennials, as faithful and wonderful as they are, do require some TLC if you want them to perform every year. (there is the odd exception) By this, I mean, cutting back the dead portion from the year before, division every few years, fertilizing, dead-heading and potential move to another more favourable location in the garden. There is no such thing as a low-maintenance garden. Some work is always required. I mention this, because clients and friends are always winging that phrase at me. "I'd like a nice low-maintenance garden - can you help me with that?" they ask. Sure, we'll just pave your entire front lawn - and back, and even then, you will have to pull weeds from the cracks in the concrete, rake the leaves that blow over from your neighbour's trees, and if you dare to have a pot or urn at the front door (for some colour!), you will have to water it everyday, twice on the really hot days. Anything more than that, and you can expect to spend at least an hour a day to keep it perfect. (and that's for a small modest plot) An therein lies the rub. Perfection. If you are willing to allow your garden to have a mind of it's own, spread it's seeds and wind it's roots willy nilly with nary a correction by your hand, you would then possibly be able to say, "I have a nice low-maintenance garden." However, despite your vision of a "Monet-type" canvas, what you would get would be more like a "Jackson Pollock canvas". All wild and crazed, a garden needing to be committed, rather than admired. In a "Jackson Pollock" garden, weeds would eventually choke out the flowers and they would spread to your lawn and before you know it, you'd be calling the cement crew in to dump a load all over it because it's the only way you'd be able to kill it. I know this to be true, because I have allowed certain sections of my own garden to have their way with Mother Nature from time to time and the result is always disappointing. I like the look of an English garden versus the tidier formal garden, but don't let anyone tell you an English garden is simpler. They'd be lying. It is also impossible to create an English garden in any time frame less than 5 years. Penelope Hobhouse, the famous English gardener, would tell you 10 years. She is actually correct. After 5 years, you would have a decent looking garden, but not quite the "House & Garden" result you were going for. I know I said earlier that I was in the hate phase of my love/hate garden relationship, and although that is true today, tomorrow I could flip back to love, as I so often do. After I finish writing this blog, I will step out my back door and head to the farthest corner of our lot and stand in my "woodland" garden, at it's most spectacular right now, and look at my precious trilliums, bloodroot and trout lilies and once again realize why I put in the work. I don't need to go to a museum to look at a painting. I have the real thing right here in my own little plot of paradise. Right after I find that damn manual.

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