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Gardening as Juggling

Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday, 4 October 2002

Lucy Brown called from the Pepperell Garden Club: could they come see my garden? I love to talk plants where I can show them in person ... but my garden looks ragged!

Some of it is due to rethinking my garden style, converting several areas to masses of a single plant, for a grander effect. Some is due to deciding to supplement the soil, in most of my garden, with a commercial compost that's extremely moisture-retentive (but still natural). Some is because I start projects all over ... and then it takes me longer than I realized it would, to get them done. The result is gaps in the plantings, with bare dirt showing, or thickets of crabgrass which took over the gaps, or sometimes holes dug out and not filled. (When will I learn to do one thing at a time?)

In accord with Parkinson's Law, housework expands to fill the time available. Well, my garden has expanded in space that way. But garden work always seems to exceed the time — or energy — I have available! "Low maintenance," I need to keep telling myself.

Some of the problem is the time of year: less bloom, more accumulated wear-and-tear. The drought made it worse: instead of working on all the projects I'd already started, I've been scurrrying to transplant valuable plants to where they could survive. Plants that don't need those extreme measures, still are suffering: my four-foot New England Asters have the bottom third of their leaves all brown.

How could I let the Pepperell Garden Club see the disarray? Expert gardener Priscilla Williams had recommended my garden to the club, as an outstanding fall garden. She said that, I know, because she likes the asters I collect... but she hasn't seen the way things look here this year! Plus the drought has interfered with normal bloom timing, and I couldn't be sure the asters would be out by the date the club wanted.

So I came clean with Brown ...and she said everyone is struggling with these issues, and would appreciate ideas about converting a garden to low maintenance. I realized this situation is not a problem, it's a dilemma. A problem can be solved; a dilemma is a set of conflicting forces you can't fix. You don't solve a dilemma, you work with it. Suddenly it didn't seem so daunting: gardeners work with dilemmas all the time.

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In the photo that's (top row) Dianne Kazanjian, Jen Conneilly, Terry Duggan, and (below) Marion Cerra, of the Pepperell Garden Club.

© Copyright 2002 Catherine Holmes Clark