Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Sorry, What? I Was Thinking About Flowers: Gardening Therapy

(These are "Cut and Come Again" zinnias that I grew in pots on my deck.)

For the last few years, I've been increasingly into decorative gardening and landscaping, especially in the late spring and early summer. This year, however, I've become really fanatical about it. Although it's a great hobby just on its own merits, it's serving another purpose for me, too: a partial antidote to feeling dejected about politics and worried about the future of our environment. I can go outside, get absorbed in the work of planting pretty things, and then be able to watch them expand over time. 

I'm trying to make my yards really wildlife-friendly, so I don't get the "perfect" results one might expect from using pesticides and weed-killers. I don't really think of that weed-free, bug-free effect as perfect, though. I like a more casual, natural look, and apparently so do the birds, because every morning there's a chorus of I don't even know how many kinds of birds, and I love it. I've seen a monarch butterfly in my back yard twice, recently, and a hummingbird once, even though I don't have a hummingbird feeder. There are at least two rabbits that hop around toward the overgrown back of my back yard, and eat the dandelions. I also see three chipmunks that get on my nerves a bit, but they have as much right to live as I do, so I'm working on scent-based strategies to keep them from digging up certain spots. 

I'm also not in any way a fan of grass lawns. Look, if you want to spend hours every week out there with loud machines that make noise and fumes, and fight the never-ending and expensive battle to keep out every last weed, that's your business - although others also get to hear the noise and smell the fumes, fyi. I'm putting my effort into gradually replacing my grass with low ground-cover plants like mini-clover, which only grows four to six inches tall and also pulls nitrogen into the soil, or creeping jenny, which likes shade and also brightens up shady spots with its green-yellow color and pretty foliage. This process is definitely a lot of work for now, but over time it will lead to less work, and (in my opinion) look more interesting than big, flat expanses of grass. I am also breaking up the flat expanses with perennial flower beds and shrubs arranged so that there are curving, flowing paths through the back yard, with something different to look at from every angle. And, since I'm aware that this is not the favored type of landscaping in my neighborhood, I'm also trying to plant things to close off the yard pleasantly - not a solid wall, but a soft and nice-looking enclosure. 


Have you ever heard the expression "if you want to make an omelette, you have to break some eggs?" This applies to my efforts in so many ways. I could actually spend a couple of days each week going around and dealing with weeds and volunteer trees and even nice plants that are overgrown, and then by the time I got all the way back around to the beginning, it would be almost as bad as when I started. That would be soul-crushing, and the yard wouldn't end up looking prettier. So I've been trying to alternate between types of project: plant some pretty things in a bare spot; cut the "lawn" (which could in some places be more accurately described as a "weed farm"); get a life and some rest for a couple days; work on harder and less-fun projects like cutting down small trees and (soon) pulling out the bricks from a super-ugly old patio remnant; and then reward myself with getting to plant some new things again, next time the budget allows. Oh, and sometimes I actually sit on the shady patio for a while in the morning and just enjoy being outside.

If this sounds to you like my new full-time job, you're not entirely wrong, but it's more of a part-time job. It's time-sensitive. The more I can get done in the warm months this year, the better the situation will be next year, and - more importantly - the less time I will spend fretting about what deeply unpleasant actions might come blasting out of the current government next. I'm still Doing the Thing I mentioned in my last post, but I'm taking advantage of the good weather to do this additional gardening thing outside when I can.

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