Looking outdoors this morning, I am convinced that the main reason I designed our garden is to provide an action arena for the squirrels. Just now there are seven chasing after each other along the scalloped-top of the picket fence, leaping from there into the small trees, then into the taller trees and back down again. Because it is winter –well, not quite yet in terms of the calendar, but close enough to count–and most of the foliage is down, I can see the squirrels very well; they are having serious fun. And so am I watching them. Plus, our very luscious mild weather of the past week lets me pretend winter is far off; I admit to enjoying a 70 degree December day. I also saw the first Junco of the season yesterday which means we will be cooling off.
I love when things I’ve read recently end up making connections. To people and to the garden, of course.
While I was convalescing from my recent hip surgery, my garden pal, Marie, came by to check on me and to visit. The two of us could talk for days so she was very pleasant company and I was happy to see her. I was reading just before she popped over and had to ask her a question inspired from the book: “Do you think people do their best?” I told her about the book I was reading, Rising Strong where the author asks her husband this same question. She asks it because she just returned from a conference where her roommate smoked in the non-smoking room, wiped her chocolate frosting-covered hands on the hotel furniture, and a few other things that cranked the author’s chain. We then spoke about a book we both like, The Four Agreements; one of the Agreements is to “Always do your best.” The husband mentioned above said, while not sure if people do their best all the time, he himself feels better if he believes that they do. Yesterday, a Facebook friend posted that she nearly started an international incident on an airplane because the man in the seat adjacent to her stuffed the remains of his onion-soaked hoagie wrapper in the crease between the seats. I was immediately reminded of my conversation with my friend Marie. I’m sure my Facebook friend did not think man in question was doing his best at all.
Is it easier with plants? What is “doing its best” or “doing our best” in the garden mean? (Be sure to check out my Facebook link for “Garden Crimes Investigator” for one example; the link is below.) Simply put, I believe that plants truly do their best; we the gardeners have much to contribute. First off, you can’t expect a mule to become a derby winner, right? So doing your best with the garden is starting with the best plants and not expecting a spindly, sad-looking plant to be a top performer.
I can hear it now: everyone has a story of taking some pathetic string of a thing, often something received as a gift (that the giver says he does not want– please take note– or that has over-run his garden– also note) and raising it into something amazing. This is not typically the way it works, though, and why suffer yourself through that? There are plenty enough garden challenges to go around and I suggest placing your need to nurture sick things elsewhere other than the garden. Also, you run the risk in bringing a disease into the garden that might infect other plants. Then folks wonder why these sub-par plants die, saying it’s because they have the dreaded “black thumb” disease when it is more simply not making the best plant decisions at the beginning.
Doing our best in our gardens means learning, and paying attention, and creating the best, optimum environment in which our great plants can thrive. This said, even a strong, healthy plant at the starting gate will not thrive if improperly planted, out-competed by more aggressive neighboring plants, over-run with weeds continually damaged by the string-trimmer, inadequately or improperly watered, poorly pruned or flat-out ignored. All of your plants are investments into your garden. Your time is an investment into your garden.
Lastly, some plants are easy–they are both good-looking when purchased and don’t need a whole lot of attention from us–they perform maybe even despite us. Witch Hazel is one of these plants. I would say it might even look good for the folks who claim to have the dreaded BT. Atlantic reads that “it was the first mass-marketed American made toiletry” and has an amazing fragrance. In winter, no less. Here’s what else I like: because I want to bring some cuttings indoors for the fragrance, I can take care of the plant pruning I want to do at the same time and that is then all the pruning the plant needs for the year. During the season, the leaves are a scalloped, middle green, but oh does it turn on the Autumn color–bright, bright yellow. Plant expert Michael Dirr says about two varieties he saw blooming at Longwood Gardens: “I witnessed them in gorgeous fall color. Why these plants are not in greater use is beyond me. They are lovely, maintenance-free plants.” My favorite varieties are “Arnold’s Promise” (yellow) and “Jelena” (coppery red.)
There you have it. Beauty, fragrance, color, ease. Doesn’t get much better than that.