Friday, July 27, 2007

What To Do When Your Green Thumb Turns Blue?

We will “celebrate” our seventh year in our house in a couple of weeks. We have almost two acres, much of it wooded; there is enough lawn that it takes me just under two hours with our push-mower once a week. (Actually, that qualifies as “more than enough lawn.” Yeesh.) This is my first house after years of apartment-living and I was, seven years ago, ecstatic at the prospect of being able to create and maintain my own gardens. As I mentioned, that was seven years ago: this year, all I have sown is apathy.

The yard was a blank slate when we moved in: the lawn a mess of weeds and crabgrass, and some foundation shrubs along the front. The soil was only three inches of dirt over a deep layer of sand the contractor had used for fill – not the ideal for planting anything except for perhaps ostrich heads. Also, we are on a very slow well which recovers one gallon of water in seven minutes, so watering outdoors is not an option. Still, plenty of room for possibilities! I even started a gardening journal and faithfully began recording my adventures.

I immediately dug out (and amended, and amended, and amended again) a small flower garden in front [tulips – which the deer and squirrels promptly ate every last one of – and icicle violets], a narrow rock garden, a triangular bed on the back corner of the house [vincas, which dried up because I couldn’t water them], and a big perennial bed in the back yard [asters, hollyhocks, bee balm, day lily, coreopsis]. Later, I added black-eyed Susans and sea thrift to the rock garden and smelly herbs [lavender, catmint and thyme] to the front garden. See, I noted, I’m already learning to focus on drought-resistant, anti-deer plants. This is such fun!

In January 2002, I started a wish list. In May (after the frost had finally left our Maine soil), I dug a new perennial bed off our deck [clematis, sedum, campanula], added to my big perennial bed [cornflowers, pinks, globe thistles, lupine], replaced the ground cover at the corner of the house [pachysandra – which has actually, to this day, succeeded], and cute little hens-and-chicks [sempervivum] to the rock garden. By mid-June, everything in the rock garden except for the hens-and-chicks had died and the remaining tulips were decimated by the local wildlife. Undeterred by this, I optimistically planted 200 bulbs in the fall – all of which ended up being eaten by the fracking squirrels. I noted in my journal that I seemed to be very good at planting new plants but very bad at maintenance. This will be a recurrent theme.

I attempted to start my own seeds in spring 2003: largely a failure, probably too much water for a change. Also, I didn’t get out into the outside gardens until the Fourth of July; weeding, therefore, was the main task at hand. I expanded my deck garden and planted astilbe, candytuft and artemisia. The rock garden gave up the ghost entirely, poor thing. I planted a rosa rugosa out front (from North Creek Farm in Phippsburg, Maine – a very cool, laid back place with great beach roses and free range chickens scurrying all over), and replaced the hollyhocks in the big garden with a blue veronica and white gooseneck loosestrife.

Ah, 2004 – a harbinger, I’m afraid. The last entry in my notebook is: “08/14/04 – haven’t done much in the garden this summer … rainy, rainy rainy.” Also, that day marked the first weeding of the year as well (yikes!). In addition, I killed a bunch of grass on the front lawn in my attempt to oust the ground bees that had moved in. (Have you ever been stung by ground bees? I would recommend avoiding that if at all possible.) My dad gave me four tomato plants which I put in pots on the deck, and I planted more candytuft, what I think is a sea buckthorn (so cool: tall and shrubby with skinny leaves), Russian sage and two more catmints.

2005 and 2006 are only blurs at this point. I probably put in a few more plants, maybe weeded once or twice. I know that we edged the gardens and put down a pick-up truck’s worth of mulch last year, but that’s all I can positively account for. This year is by far the worst: I have done absolutely nothing but mow the lawn, and that only a few times. The big perennial bed is holding its own, although the lupine which had previously done so well didn’t bloom this year at all. The only things holding on in the gardens around the deck are the astilbe – it’s even flourishing, so it must prefer neglect – and the buckthorn. The pachysandra is finally choking out the dandelions, but the front herb garden is sadly succumbing to the encroaching grass.

I just don’t care anymore, I guess. It’s been a pretty rainy summer so there’s hardly been any time to be out in the garden; when we do get some sunshine the last thing I want to do is weed. I’m tired of battling the horrific soil conditions and the crabgrass. I don’t know enough about landscaping to do it myself and I don’t have the money to hire someone else to plan and execute it for me. I’ve just mentally checked out of this house and want a new one, with already-established gardens, maybe something funky and xeriscape-ish that won’t need much water (since I’m accustomed to that already). Or perhaps I need a new hobby altogether, something that doesn’t require so much work – like restoring old cars or raising purebred Morgan horses. Those are easy, right?

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