I wanted to be playing golf on my day off.
Instead, I spent a chunk of that sun-warmed day wrestling with a too-long-neglected patch of lily of the valley.
Those sweet little flowers were on an invasion course to rival Attila the Hun’s. They were overtaking my astilbe and had their sights trained on a prized mum.
Even though I knew full well this innocent-looking plant could be a thug, I’d ignored its march across my flower bed until I could ignore it no more.
As I dug and pulled and hacked, I realized my lily of the valley was trying to teach me something. A little timely thinning every spring would have saved this assault on my back muscles. That’s what happens when you procrastinate. Little issues turn into big problems.
It seems my garden is always offering me life lessons. To wit:
Be fearless. The first time I divided a plant, it seemed like slaughter. Dig it up? Hack off chunks? This can’t be good for it, I thought.
But it was.
I’ve discovered that dividing plants and moving those that struggle make for a healthier garden. Oh, sure, I’ve made mistakes, like killing plants by trying to transplant them in midsummer. But even then, I learned something.
Give the benefit of the doubt. I’m usually impatient with sprouts I don’t recognize. But I remember well the volunteer that appeared some years ago, just off my front porch. It wasn’t anything I’d planted, but it didn’t look weedy. I decided to give it a chance.
When the plant finally bloomed, I recognized it as a delphinium. It was a vivid blue, one of the prettiest flowers I’ve ever seen. Some bird had probably deposited the seed there, and its blossoming was a gift I would have missed had I not given that plant a chance.
Never stop learning. Just when I think I’ve mastered the maintenance of my plants, some new problem or pest comes along to mess with me. Scale insects threaten my euonymus. Deer eat my arborvitae. A sudden cold snap kills my boxwoods.
Sometimes I’m tempted to just throw up my hands in defeat, but eventually I go looking for explanations and solutions. And invariably, that research fascinates me. Maybe knowing about the life cycle of scale and the botany of boxwoods is marginally useful in the greater scheme of things, but that’s OK. Every tidbit of knowledge I gain makes me a better gardener.
Perfection doesn’t exist, and that’s OK. Nature has a way of humbling even the biggest perfectionists. Like me, for example.
I’ve waged an ongoing battle with the deer in my yard for more than a decade, and usually I lose. But the year I was planning a backyard graduation party for my son, I decided I was going to get the upper hand.
So throughout the spring and early summer, I faithfully sprayed the hostas along the back of the yard with repellent to keep the deer from chewing them to stubs. It was dry that year, so there was rarely any rain to wash the spray off. I eased up on the frequency.
The Monday before the party, I looked out at those lush hostas. I should give them one more spray, I thought, but I didn’t get around to it.
That night, it stormed. The next day, my hostas were in tatters.
And you know what? It didn’t matter. The party was a success. No one noticed the hostas, or at least no one said anything. Plus it made a really good story.
In all things, there is value. Growing up, I was socialized to hate pretty much any creepy-crawly, buzzing or slithering thing. Spiders, I thought, were for squashing. Bees were vicious. And earthworms? Ick.
That was before I realized spiders devour impressive amounts of bugs and keep pests in check, bees spread pollen that lets yummy foods grow, and earthworms open up my clay soil so my plants can thrive.
Even things in nature that seem to have no redeeming quality have a place. The oddball fungi that sprout in my yard, for example, are helping dead tree roots break down. The mosquitoes provide food for fish and birds.
Nature gave all things a purpose. Who am I to second-guess that?
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also become a fan on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MBBreckABJ, follow her on Twitter @MBBreckABJ and read her blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.