We are coming to the end of the season. The flowery part, that is. My garden set is already struck of all annuals except three Dahlias. The containers are emptied, washed out, and stored. I brought out two frost-hardy pots that will feature some winter-y displays when the time comes. There might be some more cut-backs to do, but if I don’t get to them it won’t be a big deal at all. I have a helper coming one more time for a bit of transplant work. Yes, you did read that correctly; I’m on the IR with the shovel team. At some point late this season, my shoulders began to feel super grumpy and it wasn’t getting any better, so I visited a sports medicine doc. In summary, “shoulders are for mobility, not stability.” The doctor also told me that gardening is not a “sissy sport–” we know that. It sometimes asks that we move in ways that are un-natural for extended periods of time. I’ve learned a few things about garden ergonomics recently, done some thinking about process so here I offer you some tips on how to make some better, safer, healthier garden decisions:
1. Avoid garden marathons. Even if you have to put in a hour or two at the end of the day–when we have daylight, that is–you will tally-up a bunch of time by the end of the week. If you get behind, it is better to engage or hire some help because if you are injured, you will need to hire help anyway and you’ll have a bunch of medical expenses;
2. Humans are engineered for walking. We walk, and walk and walk. If you have a car-load of things, make trips instead of carrying too much at once. Better still;
3. Get a garden cart instead of a wheelbarrow. The cart is more stable–has two wheels instead of one. Pushing is always better than pulling and better than carrying heavy things at the end of your arms. If you must carry something, hug it–provided you can see over the top;
4. Sharp tools. The tool should do the work, not the wrist/elbow/shoulder. Winter is a good time to re-evaluate your tool collection. If your plant stem cuts are jagged or tear instead of cutting, you will need sharper pruners, saws or loppers. A sharp pruner blade should be able to cut a piece of newspaper. Your local hardware store can help you with sharpening or you might need some replacements. If your shovel is rusty and no longer pointed, it’s probably time for a new one. If the point is intact, it can be sharpened and oiled for improved use.
Plant and design choices. There is a direct correlation between the number of perennials and annuals in a garden and the amount of work the garden takes to look good. Also, I’ve probably said this a million times, but I’ll say it again. Love plants for their foliages and you’ll be more satisfied with your garden and have less work. Consider what the plant looks like in all seasons of the year. If something looks great for three seasons, it’s a great plant. Some even look great all year–even better. Let your decisions be based on this and what you love, love love. Otherwise, out with it. Consider replacing masses of perennials with trees and shrubs. Most need very little pruning–like once a year. Trees will give you the most satisfaction of anything you have in the garden plus you’ll bring birds and get some shady spots. There are lots of trees suitable for small gardens–Serviceberry, Redbud, and Three-flowered maple are three of my favorites. Shrubs, in addition to being less maintenance, also cover the ground and have bigger roots which help out-compete weeds–less weeding is always a good thing. A couple of good shrubs to consider: Globe Cryptomeria and Deutzia for sunny gardens; Japanese Plum Yew and Skimmia or Sweet Box for shady gardens.
In my garden, some of the perennials that require staking are on the chopping block. This will likely be the Tall Coneflower, an Aster that I’m not in love with, and the Sneezeweed. I will miss the Coneflower, but felt it was a nuisance. I need to edit some things anyway, so this makes the decision easier. What are some “keeper” perennials? Sedums are great; the foliage is beautiful all season and they flower at the end. “Autumn Joy” should be cut back by a third in June to keep it upright. Not a big deal for the amount of satisfaction. Ornamental Grasses. They too only need a once-a year-cut. Same for Amsonia, a grass-like perennials that acts like a shrub. For shade, it’s hard to beat ferns. They hardly even need a trim in the spring. Heuchera and Heucherella are often evergreen if our winters aren’t too severe and hug the ground so well.
It’s all about balance. I find what I enjoy most about the garden are really the things I fuss about least. More of these and what I truly love–and less of the rest.