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Gardening Body and Mind

Tough plants: ones that will thrive in the conditions my yard offers, without needing a lot of effort — that's what I try to grow. All too often I've fallen for a pretty face who needs extra care, blithely resolved to reform my lazy habits ... and failed.

So over the years I've developed a collection of low-care beauties. The plan was to create a garden I could stop developing at some point, and just enjoy. Although my mind doesn't think I'm there yet, my body does.

Every year I abandon more maintenance I used to consider essential. For example I love the look of the winter garden without snow, if the dead perennial tops are cleared away so you see a minimalist composition of mulch, soil, rock and a little green here and there. But I've not achieved that for several winters, and I'm not even removing perennial tops this spring. Oh, a few — if they stand out, and are easy to pull away — but I'm surprised (and happy) to see how much the new growth hides them.

Last fall, none of my flowerbeds got raked. This spring, a friend did a little — but most the garden stayed buried under decomposing brown mats. I was worried plants would be smothered. When the tiarella poked its way through in a only a few patches, I was resigning myself not to seeing the massive drifts they'd made last year. But now the tiarella covers all the brown. The European ginger too is looking quite robust, and has spread more than I ever thought it would in my dry soil. I think the dead leaves are actually nourishing the garden.

The points on the tightly-curled hosta sprouts did a good job of poking through detritus. The maiden pinks grew their stems a bit longer, and twisted them around to find the light. Tiny-leaved thymes, even miniature variegated violet 'Sylvia Hart' somehow emerged: the most delicate plant in my garden, which I've tried to grow three times and failed with twice. Maybe I'll stop worrying about raking.

When a tough plant turns out invasive: that worries me more. I love pretty, yellow-flowered, variegated lamiastrum. But it's invading the woods. My mind rebels, but I have to face it: to prevent its killing already-endangered natives, I need to get rid of all of it. Now to find a strong back to help.

© Copyright 2004 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 4 June 2004

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In the first photo, European Ginger is spreading from one small piece to a satisfying patch; behind it pulmonaria, epimedium and tiarella run into each other, all together making dense groundcover.

In the second, lamiastrum taking over the woods.