Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Green and Overconfident

Photo courtesy Flickr

Two years of blithe pronouncements about native plantings stick in my throat as I look out over the front yard. Unusual weather conditions, bad decisions, and January’s sprained knee have left me nothing to boast about.

There’s a learning curve in innovation. Usually my mistakes happen in private. Here’s what I didn’t know about leaving the landscape to fend for itself: bark mulch deteriorates after a couple of years. It’s important to keep it looking fresh and generous. The mulch saves so much labor, it’s cost-effective to keep it up to snuff.

During growing season it's really stupid to mow the yarrow, native geranium, and clover that make up the front sward. Their subtleties of height, color, and texture add just enough contrast to the grass path to make the wild landscape look intentional, which is comforting. Weeds don’t stand a chance against this triumvirate.

Last season I cut back woody shrubs along the fence to make a painting crew’s work easier. They did a good job, but this year’s rain patterns retarded the recovery I had anticipated. The modest evergreen framework of the front sward looks hammered under high sun. A mild nibbling of this season’s growth and buds will set the boundary plantings growing toward a beautiful recovery in time for Thanksgiving.

I hadn’t realized how important shadow is to the landscape. Not shade, but shadow. Allowing plants to arrange themselves much as they wish requires an awareness, respect, and appreciation for the ways that they share sunlight. I was a brutal fool to have mowed a developing turf that is happily evolving into a generous framework for wild life and for the household.

On the up side, that mowing will generate extensive root systems. Scattering a little time release fertilizer on the plants now will bring an instant response when the rains come in a few weeks. I could irrigate and get faster, floppier results: I’d just as soon put my energies into careful detailing of mulch, weeds, and minor pruning.

Very little garden writing comments on improvisation, but Vita Sackville-West mentions how important it is to let plants have their way. Leaving well enough alone is the key to grace in the landscape.


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