Gretchen gardens with gusto, talks in tongues to plants

#535 in a series of true experiences in real estate
June 2007, Hills Newspapers

My friend Gretchen, who, like me, is a gardener, asked me recently if I’ve given names to weeds in my garden. I haven’t, but Gretchen pretends that some of her weeds are neighbors in a sociable neighborhood, each family with a different name. Living amongst the roses in her north garden are the chichi girls, and over on the back hill, reside the busters.

In that same conversation Gretchen wanted to know if, when I’ve been gardening all day, all by myself among the plants, do I pretend to talk in various foreign accents or languages while commenting on the garden? I don’t do that either, although I can certainly see Gretchen having a grand time with it.

“Senoritas, dahlias magnificio, oui? Si, si, rosa gusto” – or something. It does sound like fun.

Gretchen and I don’t garden in the same ways, I already know. Her actions are bigger, bolder than mine. She thrusts herself into a part of the garden and pulls and saws, makes scattered piles of stems, leaves and branches. On occasion, she even uses a chain saw!

Suddenly, she jumps up, runs to her car and drives to the nursery, buys 12 or 20 gallon cans of whatever she is sure a section of her large garden needs today, and takes them back home, hauling them out of the back seat and trunk and up to the spot. She may plant them then, cheek to jowl, or maybe not. If it turns out to feel like a plant acquisition day, she’ll be off again to buy more stock.

Actually, about that cheek to jowl business: it was the case ten years ago that Gretchen invariably planted too many plants too close together in an area too small for them. She is always in a hurry for a big effect, but I think more recently she’s been buying larger quantities but spacing them out. I know that last fall when I last visited, the 100 dwarf mock orange plants, one-gallon size, she had purchased for a wide bank (it took a lot of trips to quite a number of nurseries) were planted with nice spaces between them.

My garden actions tend to be more sedate. Pretty much everyday, at least twice, I walk along my garden paths, stop to pinch off dead flowers, try to remember to look at and enjoy the long views, not just what is immediately in front of me, then sit down for a moment next to a little patch that needs attention. Usually there is a bucket handy nearby into which I can put handfuls of weeds I’ve pulled or clippings I’ve made.

I used to buy six of any one plant I wanted to try out, at least in the smaller sizes – bedding plants or 4-inch pots. This was because I thought that small single plants should be grouped for better presence, and there is truth in this. But nowadays I buy what I want to buy, often a single plant, or sometimes two. I put them singles next to one another, and usually, I like them fine.

Gretchen likes her garden to be tall and full and wild, and she hopes, European-looking – French, possibly, or Italian. She grows roses and wisteria and “angel trees”, trailing red pelargoniums. Paddle-shaped bergenia, white hydrangeas, maples. She likes clematis growing up into the trees and up over her outdoor brick fireplace.

Recently, she managed to buy and add to her garden, all in the space of a few days: an old wood and iron gate to divide one area into two rooms; a new, old-look wooden arbor, on which she plans to grow Boston ivy which turns red in the fall, and on either side of the arbor matching twin boxwoods; a glider-type swing for lying in while reading books; and an outdoor clay oven in the shape of a beehive, in which she will cook bruschetta and thin-crust pizza.

My equipment purchases lately: 3 pretty plastic buckets with handles, two that I leave in the garden for feeding plants Bloom, the third I keep upside down and clean to use when cutting flowers for the house. Also, wood stakes. I’m forever buying more wooden stakes which I use to tie up dahlias, lilies and hollyhocks. And a top-of-the-line pole pruner.

Once Gretchen told me that she has made a study of what it takes to remove various weeds from the garden. Some can be gotten out with a single pull. Others, when pulled leave roots behind, and they keep on growing, so these have to be pried out with a weeder or trowel. If done right, only one flick of the tool gets the entire plant. There are also weeds with tap roots, usually thistles, and they must be loosened first, then pulled out straight up so that the whole thing comes at once.

She makes a game of it, a challenge to try to completely remove each weed in one shot. I do this too. But I guess Gretchen is such a busy bee, she’s dreaming up names for them too, telling them all about themselves and their surroundings, speaking in foreign tongues.

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