April is the time to celebrate your garden

#423 in a series of true experiences in real estate
April 2003, Hills Newspapers

It’s National Gardening Month, celebrating America’s favorite pastime. More than half of us are gardeners. That’s what I’ve read anyway. But can it be true? I look for gardens everywhere I go and talk to people all of the time, but I don’t find many who garden.

Most people who come to my house don’t even go out into my garden, and this is fine. I don’t have any need for the people I know to also be gardeners. Sometimes though, I do meet another gardener, and this is always enjoyable because we have something to share. It doesn’t seem to matter what they are growing. It could be lettuce, tomatoes, or roses. If they’re growing anything, we can – and we do — talk.

Probably more people would be gardeners if only they knew how. But gardening can be complicated. There are so many things to consider, so many ways to go wrong.

“What should I grow here?” friends sometimes ask. “You know about flowers.”

I never know what to say. Have they ever grown anything? What kinds of plants would they like? Do they realize that there are things they will have to do? Select and place and care for the plants?

There are almost always plants that the friends already have but don’t count. Maybe there are nasturtiums outside their door, unexcelled nasturtiums with their clear green, round leaves and crisp orange, scarlet and golden yellow flowers.

They are a cause for celebration, exquisite beauty without care. Sometimes I will say to the friends, “Look at these nasturtiums. No care required, and aren’t they terrific?”

But that isn’t what they want. They want a “garden.” I think this means that they want to grow plants that are harder to grow, an accomplishment.

There is a lot of help out there for those wishing to achieve through gardening. There are gardening magazines and books full of breathtaking, double-page, full-color photographs of heartbreakingly beautiful flower borders. I do love looking at these gardens, and maybe you do, too, but I wonder if they are a help?

Don’t most of us find these examples daunting? It’s confusing enough to walk through the aisles of a nursery and wonder all of the things that one wonders before taking on a plant for one’s own. “What a gorgeous flower,” I may think as I pause by a grouping of gallon-size containers.

“I wonder what it is? Oh, here’s the name, and I’ve never heard of it. These plants cost $8.98 each. How many would I need? How tall do they get? Do they bloom all the time or will they stop soon?”

All the watering, pruning, weeding and feeding in the world, I’ve found, do not ensure success. Bad things happen to plants. Hardly ever do I understand what it was. I think about this when I am asked what a friend should plant. I would like to give a good answer but, not having one, I usually say, “Why don’t you come to my garden and I’ll show you what I’m growing.”

The friend may come, or he might just go to the nursery and pick out some plants, take them home and put them in the ground. I think this is as good a place to start as any. The plants will either grow or they won’t. If my friend’s interest continues, he’ll go back to the nursery, and he’ll try more, probably different ones – perhaps for a lifetime.

And maybe he’ll come to the same conclusion I have: I grow plants that like what I’m able to provide. I’ve tried many that didn’t make it. Now, pretty much, I stick to tried and true.

Nasturtiums, for instance, are a mainstay for me. They reseed in and along a broken concrete wall that stretches almost the width of my garden. Once a year when they look ratty, I pull them all out and enjoy the bare wall for a month or so before, without any assistance from me, new seedlings appear.

I’ve allowed many patches of a creeping polygonum (“pink popcorn” my friend Gretchen aptly calls it) which I frequently cut back and pull out because I don’t want it to cover the entire earth.

I am fond of an oxalis that was already in my garden when I came, one which I’ve spread around here and there. Oxalis? Isn’t it a weed? This particular oxalis is not because it doesn’t spread on its own, as some others do.

It grows in mounds of clover-shaped leaves with small cerise flowers blooming above. They’re in bloom most of the year tying together the whole of my garden view in a most delightful way.

The biggest bang for the buck is, I think, lilies. For three to five dollars each, you can get bulbs of the exquisite lilies you see at florists. Plant that bulb and wait, and within a year, you’ll have the most fabulous flowers in your garden. Many are so powerfully, sweetly scented that the aroma carries a distance.

All that lilies need — even those that grow to a spectacular height of five to six feet — are good draining soil and water all year round. It’s good to label where they are planted because they die back, making them invisible for part of the year.

Another favorite of mine is sweet alyssum. Each spring I buy two flats of alyssum. I could grow it from seed (it’s easy), but I so enjoy what I get by setting out a covering of young, pure white alyssum plants. It’s as if I’d laid out a wedding dress in the sun.

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