August 2, 2011

Company's Coming!

There is a gardening aphorism that has always resonated with me.  It goes like this:  “If you have three months to get ready for company, re-design.  If you have three weeks, replant.  If you have three days, put down mulch.  If you have three hours, edge.”

I understand the underlying wisdom embodied in that timeline.  Three years ago, our property was part of the Garden Conservancy Open Days program.  We had the better part of six months to prepare for that day and we attracted several hundred visitors, each of whom paid five dollars admission.  Let me say without hesitation that, had I known what we would spend to ‘get ready’ for our Open Day, I would have come out considerably ahead by simply cutting the Garden Conservancy a check for the amount we would have brought in lieu of actually holding the event.  Of course, we still get to enjoy the ‘improvements’ we made over the course of the winter and spring before our Open Day, but I also remember the labor involved.

I bring all this up because we are hosting another group this month.  This time it is Master Gardeners and I am thrilled because we have only two weeks to prepare. There has been no talk of trees cut down or tree planted, stone walls rebuilt or new garden ‘rooms’ created.  The most labor-intensive project is getting rid of a failed grass walkway between two beds and replacing it with a mixture of stone and ornamental grasses.  Of course, I have yet to actually start this project so the timeline may be moving from dawn’s-early-light cool to mid-morning mugginess, but I can finesse that.

What I cannot control is the bloom cycle of our garden.  That is Betty’s sphere of influence.  Most homeowners are content to see a plant bloom once a year.  Not so in our garden and certainly not so this year.  Certain perennials like salvia and nepeta can be coaxed into a second bloom by judicious pruning.  August is ordinarily a letdown after June and July.  Not so this year.  Our containers – all fifty of them - are getting tender loving care to ensure that the annuals and perennials in them are in their full, late-summer splendor.

Oxalis - a truly nasty weed.
There is also weeding.  Weeding is one of my jobs and I will be the first to confess that in August I start to let my guard down.  Not this year.  I have carefully re-edged and re-mulched one of our major beds and, in the process, found a shameful number of weeds.  They’re gone now, but I know I will go through this process at least one more time before the tour. 

Leptinella serrulata, otherwise
known as New Zealand fern
Out in back, our rock gardens are the scene of an epic battle to control oxalis and an insidious creeping sedum that, given its druthers, would smother everything in its path.  It is my job to keep the paths and steps green, but green with the ‘good’ ground covers like New Zealand fern (which is neither a fern not from New Zealand, but that’s another story) and Scotch moss, and get rid of everything else.  The problem with oxalis is that you can pull it out by its roots on Saturday morning and, by Sunday afternoon, it has all come back.  (The oxalis hitch-hiked in on other plants.  This is why you remove all extraneous greenery from pots.)

My driveway edging tool of choice.
Edging is my strong suit.  Most homeowners (and lawn services) use string trimmers to whack at grass to pull it back off driveways or flower beds and I suppose such tools do a satisfactory job… for most gardens.  My tool of choice is a back-powered piece of 19th century technology that delivers the perfect driveway edge with an inch-wide channel between the pavement and the grass.  Edging perennial beds is done with a straight shovel and the effect is gorgeous.

The psychic benefit of inviting people to your garden cannot be overestimated.  Compliments make the work worthwhile.  Even I have to admit that for August in a dry summer, our garden looks quite good (well, it will look good once I get that pathway done).  But once in a long while, you can hear something that makes you proud to be a gardener.  It happened three years ago: two ladies stood at the front of our property on that Garden Conservancy Open Day.  They had no idea who I was and so they spoke openly.  One turned to the other and said, rather caustically, “They’re lying.  There is no way that two people take care of this garden.”

It was the best compliment I never received.

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