THE ABSENTEE GARDENERS
By Kit Flynn and Lise Jenkins
When I was younger, my enthusiasm for my garden knew no limits. I happily filled in empty spaces, experimented with many different plants, and spent endless hours searching out the various tulip poplar and pokeweed truants. I always had some help in dealing with the grass because mowing lawns has never been my idea of how I want to spend my time – but basically the garden was my creation.
Over the years, I gradually found that I needed more help, that I wasn’t as eager to plant 10 roses all on my own, and that it wasn’t much fun pruning camellias and other shrubs. The garden now has little vacant room left so I no longer have the fun of planting that new flower or shrub to see whether it will work or not or whether I will even like it.
I have reached that certain, undeniable age where gardening is not quite as feasible an activity as it once was. I hear some of my friends commenting on this same condition and collectively we all are muttering that we have cultivated masterpieces that have now become somewhat burdensome. This doesn’t mean that we no longer enjoy the garden – it indicates that we can no longer happily keep up with its demands.
Now please understand that nature doesn’t appreciate our efforts although, if we have planted wisely, the pollinators and the birds are most approving. No, nature has other plans for our creations, which is the reason we spend so much time weeding and pushing nature aside.
Let me offer some suggestions for how to age in place in the garden. First, get some help with the heavier jobs. Mowing lawns is not fun. My small grassy areas are simply used for contrast – but this is a necessary contrast the garden demands so they are here to stay.
Find someone who not only will mow the lawn but will help with pruning. My helper has developed a superb eye for what needs pruning and for which plants should be taken out. That’s right: Some plants probably need to be removed because they either aren’t doing well or have overstayed their welcome. Now is the time to take out that cute Loropetalum that exceeded its height estimations, thereby requiring constant attention.
The next step is to look at your garden critically. Do you really need all of it? A friend of mine who gardens in the mountains realized that she didn’t need the outer perimeter of her garden at all. If you have an area that is hard to get to, maybe you should just let it go and say goodbye. The areas where I totter are no longer frequently visited – and that’s OK.
For the third step, survey your garden with a critical eye so you can discern which plants take care of themselves. Determine which plants can survive on the water you get from the skies so you don’t have to haul out the hose as much as you used to.
My Lantana ‘Miss Huff’ is one such plant and it rewards me handsomely throughout the summer with continual blooms. Plant this beauty in the sun, cut it back in the late spring when you see new growth appearing from its roots and you will bless this plant every time you pass by it. Not only that, deer will leave it alone.
Avoid plants that require a lot of grooming – this includes two of my favorite groups of plants, the roses and the daylilies. Roses require a great deal of maintenance, from pruning to fertilizing. Daylilies, if they are going to look great, require constant deadheading during their flowering season and a thorough cleanup after the bloom time.
Avoid plants that necessitate staking unless staking is a pleasurable chore for you. I find my lilies need staking – they multiply and then the larger groups require even more staking, a tedious process. Now I am not about to rid the garden of my lilies, so my I-can’t-live-without helper is now in charge of the staking tasks.
For the last step, decide where you can help to maintain part of the garden. For example, I have clear access to the perennial borders while I tend to teeter in the farthest reaches of the garden. My helper tends to those places while I happily maintain the borders.
Remember gardens, like us, change over time. Just as we find that our bodies are no longer as accommodating as they once were, so our gardens might profit from some outside help.
Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for sharing this gift and information with me. It is pleasure to see what you doing, Kit. As you know I live in the desert. The only plants we share is lantana and maybe our Texas rangers. Our lantanas are lightly watered. Because we had a generous amount of 🌧 this year our plants are thriving. Wishing you good health and well being, Carls