The itch to garden

I’m not there yet, but I know I’ll start getting the planting bug once the garden catalogs start arriving in the mail. I have developed several criteria a plant must have before I even consider acquiring it for my garden though.

Providing winter hospitality to both vertebrate (birds mammals, lizards, etc.) and invertebrate (insects, spiders, worms, etc) wildlife is an important consideration when tidying the garden at the end of the season.

Unlike the other plants in my garden, turf grass has always struggled to get my attention. Compared to my knowledge of food crops and herbaceous perennials, I know next to nothing about turf grasses…and I would prefer to keep it that way. Some would find that hard to believe, but it’s true. Identifying turf is like complex math to me…I can do it, but I don’t want to.

When I look at turf, my eyes only see two types: good turf and bad turf.

Evidently every day this summer I deemed too hot to work in the garden was just another day for the weeds to celebrate and use their heat-miser advantage over me to grow and multiply. As a result, I am now spending most of my gardening time attempting to catch up on weeding in an effort to go into winter somewhat weed-free. I have also been editing plant composition in beds by removing excess numbers of the more aggressive species.

I admire the knowledge of plant biologists, especially that group of expert botanists who make me feel like a novice in comparison…those are the people I love to hang around with at any given opportunity to improve my own skills and knowledge. Every time I look up a plant description, a little place in the back of my mind remembers that someone or a group of someones very similar at some point in history discovered my exact plant of interest, describing it in extreme detail and giving it a scientific name for the first time.

When you collect plants, it is rather useful to label and record everything added to the garden. I wish I had started sooner. I did not do this the first few years of starting my current garden, so many of my oldest plants are unknown down to cultivar and remain unlabeled. After a few years, I began making an effort to include a metal identification tag with a waterproof label with every plant that went in the garden as well as creating a spreadsheet I could print the labels from using a label maker.

Watching how plants grow is just fascinating. Like when a terminal bud begins growing in the spring after being dormant, it leaves behind a bud scale scar that encircles the entire twig or branch and is visible to the naked eye. Since each twig makes only one terminal bud per year, you can use these scars to determine the age of a twig or limb by counting the scars back from the tip.

How perfect for Punxsutawney Phil to predict six more weeks of winter on the day when snow was falling heavily in the St Louis Metropolitan. School would have been cancelled when and where I grew up in Indiana on a day like that. But because of COVID-19, snow days for students are coming to be a thing of the past with our increasing ability to switch rapidly to remote learning. Remembering my growing up in the 60s and 70s, one of the local banks maintained a phone service that provided the time and temperature, plus any announcements of a school delay or closing.

One of my many pleasures from gardening is watching the garden develop and change over the course of a season. It never ceases to amaze me how stark, yet beautiful the landscape is in its winter rest. With the leaves gone, the beautiful bark and limb structure of the trees and shrubs is completely exposed, becoming the garden’s prominent feature. All else is a study in brown aside from an occasional splash of green from the various evergreens.