Continued from page 54 of the May 2013 issue.
Photos by Steven Nikkila
Continued from page 54 of the May 2013 issue.
Photos by Steven Nikkila
By Janet Macunovich / photos by Steven Nikkila
As a garden grows, so grows the gardener.
I spent a summer in England, ostensibly as nanny to a four year old niece. There, the brothers Cameron changed my life. These men—I never knew their first names, addressing both as “Mr. Cameron”—were caretakers of a church in Shenley Church End, Buckinghamshire. A Cameron had been the church caretaker, lived in that home, and tended the walled cottage garden since the late 1600’s.
My first visit was in early June when the elder Cameron found me studying headstones in the church graveyard. He asked me into the garden for tea. I invited myself back to talk flowers, and returned throughout the summer to run wheelbarrow and dig for the two, then 70 and 80 years old.
Back home in Michigan that fall, I dug over the garden I’d left behind and planned to change it from rows of vegetables and annuals to perennials. It went fallow into the winter, insulated under a thick layer of leaves, ready for a grand metamorphosis. I spent that winter buried in catalogues, searching out the seeds of plants I’d coveted through the summer, unaware of how much I myself was changing.
Now, more than a quarter century has passed and with it the Camerons’ garden and even Shenley Church End—swallowed in a conglomerate community called Milton Keynes. The church is closed, lost in a hard-to-find siding off the new traffic flow. Looking into the walled yard attached to the deserted caretaker’s house, you see only the field grass and weeds that come to abandoned ground everywhere.
Yet the inspiration I took from that delightful garden still grows.
Initially, I mistook its nature.
I worked happily in my garden for years, thinking to reproduce the plants, the sitting areas, the gracefully trained vines of the Camerons’ retreat. I felt some regret as my palate expanded to include species that were probably never available to the Camerons—it seemed I would leave their garden behind. After several seasons more, I was surprised to see that the similarities between what had developed here in Waterford and what had been there in Buckinghamshire were still greater than the differences. I understood then that my real goal had been and still was to recreate the feeling of that English garden, not a replica of its beds.
More recently, I doubted the value of pursuing that feeling. When I began gardening on others’ properties as much or more as I gardened on my own, the thrill of the new garden claimed me. Working in my own beds was not as much fun as creating a garden from non-garden. Stripping sod, outlining beds on a clean slate, watching a design move from paper to reality produced a creative high that was tough to find except in a new garden. To make anything truly new in an established garden, so much energy had to be expended in preparation, just to clear away existing plants and memories!
Established gardens began to seem more trouble than they were worth in other ways. Plants overgrew their bounds, sometimes in ugly or destructive ways only partially remedied with tedious pruning and awkward restraints. Weeds that sneaked in and became entrenched could sometimes be eradicated only through wholesale slaughter of, or painstaking lifting and cleaning of desirable plants. Pests sometimes claimed the upper hand, particularly as conditions changed around older plants. Looking at sections of garden left thin and raw for these and other reasons, I began to think it would be better to tear everything out and start new every five or six years, or move to a new gardening site entirely.
Today, I’m back on the Camerons’ track. I have identified the seed which germinated in me back then as love of Hortus venerablus—the old garden. Even with its limitations, its advantages are overwhelming. It’s now inextricably rooted in my heart.
To name just a few advantages, beyond the obvious ones of mature hedges and trees that cast shade…
In a garden tended over many years to discourage weeds, the seed bank in the soil shifts. Where it may once have had a high proportion of crabgrass seed—a species which can survive 20 years in the soil, waiting its chance to rise to the surface and sprout—it may eventually contain more daisy and coreopsis than dandelion, more globe thistle and coneflower than chickweed. Bare the soil in a new garden and stand ready to hoe lamb’s quarters, dock, pigweed and spurge. Pull the mulch back from a bit of old bed and prepare to thin volunteer candytuft, pimpernel, campion and cranesbill. Weeding the cracks between new paving stones is a chore. Weeding the same spaces in an older garden, the tedium is broken by discovery and decisions to leave that patch of sweet alyssum, step over that seedling sedum, and allow that pesky Perilla to stay and shade out any other comers.
Only over time do natural organisms of all sizes take hold and reach a balance with each other. Fungal and bacterial diseases seem to move in first, but if the gardener keeps a level head and avoids trying to make the environment antagonistic to all such, a far greater number of benign and helpful microorganisms soon take hold. Some of these decompose organic matter, replacing store-bought fertilizer. Others infect and kill pests. Some are known to muscle into spaces each spring before their disease-causing relatives can reach them, creating a no-room-in-the-inn squeeze play that suppresses the proliferation of the baddies.
Worms, insect-eating insects, amphibians, birds and small mammals move in as the organic matter and smaller organisms they feed on become plentiful enough to support families. No wonder my long-ago trial with a hummingbird feeder failed! We should try again, now that there is so much better habitat, more water, more insects, an absence of bad-tasting pesticides and a wealth of alternative food sources. But then, why bother? The hummingbirds are here!
A client, relatively new to gardening, once wanted me to transplant a particular plant from my garden to hers, and took offense when I declined the work. She didn’t understand my explanation that the plant’s above ground appearance was a direct reflection of an extensive, old root system and an equally extensive network of life in the soil. Simple refusal would have been my best route because the to-your-bones understanding of that situation usually comes only with experience and years. She would have to learn for herself that no amount of skill with a spade can succeed in a lasting transfer of the essence of old.
The thrill of the new still exhilarates me—I count myself fortunate to be able to feel it in large doses in clients’ and friends’ yards. Yet as an admirer of age, I’m also happier in my older beds, as delighted watching things grow as I am at their maturity. The “routines” of maintenance are more enjoyable and the unrealistic expectation that things will ever be and stay “done” crops up less. I may even be learning to coach others in cultivating an appreciation of both aspects of gardening.
Oh, to sip tea with the Camerons today, and talk to them of these things. How we might laugh over what I said and did then as I plotted to transplant Hortus venerablus!
Janet Macunovich is a professional gardener and author of the books “Designing Your Gardens and Landscape” and “Caring for Perennials.” Read more from Janet on her website www.gardenatoz.com.
By Janet Macunovich / Photographs by Steven Nikkila
Are you having guests over to see the garden? Great! Let’s talk tactics.
Without losing sight of the glory of the moment, fast forward in your mind’s eye to the visit. Where are high points and holes going to be? Aim to spotlight the stars and mask fading players.
Difficulty seeing past whatever’s in bloom right now? Great stage managers use reference books on perennials to determine what will be in peak bloom for your visitors. A viewer’s eye will be drawn to full bloom, i.e. concentrations of color. That’s where garden statuary should be placed, companion annuals most carefully chosen, and where advance work with stakes and pest control will yield the highest pay-off.
Pick garden art to work well with the star. For a star that blooms white with hints of pink, recall that retired flamingo. A columnar plant playing the lead? Echo it with smaller columnar accents or contrast it behind a low, wide sculpture. Splashes of gold on the foliage? A golden gazing globe may be just the ticket.
Of supporting annuals, ask for more than color. Select them to complement the star’s color, form and texture. If that lead player has daisy shape flowers, use an annual with spiky blooms. Pair upright plants with low, spreading types and large foliage with ferny.
Think about supporting shaky stars now. Don’t be one who cries on visit day over storm-flattened delphiniums, and deludes herself that salvation can be found in bundling them up onto last minute stakes, crucifixion style.
Review your garden journals or look up starring plants in a pest control book. To what problems are they prone? Keep a preventive eye peeled.
Back to the bit players who will not be at their best. Aim only to make them presentable. Edit the script carefully so they don’t have important lines.
If the plants in question will pass their peak bloom before show time, and if that’s before the end of June, they are fair game for hard cut-back, even before they finish bloom. They can be cut back to clean foliage, even to the base. Given three weeks and plenty of water, most will flush out with new foliage—presentable if not stellar. If they don’t come back in time for the tour, send in stand-ins. If they never come back at all…that’s rare, but it’s the price of show biz!
About those stand-ins. Remember that they shouldn’t upstage the stars. Better to place pots of neat foliage—houseplants, or perennials not yet in bloom—than call attention to the spot with bright flower color. Never spotlight such an area by underlining it or ringing it with annuals. Few things worse in theater than when all eyes turn to a player whose costume is awry or who can’t recall her lines.
Now for last-minute sleight of hand, à la Vita Sackville-West and her stick-on blooms.
Assess the scenery a week before the visit. If a star is failing, grab a wallet and go recruiting. Garden centers have large pots of annuals for such emergencies. Perennials can be cast last-minute, too.
Weeds drawing your eye and raising your blood pressure before the show? Seek a second opinion before you blow that artistic gasket. Some weeds are well known, but some may pass for planned acts. Ask your reviewer—weeds of the unusual type which are also happy and lush may actually pass muster as can’t-put-my-finger-on-it perennials. For weeds too type-cast to play the part of a good guy, or too spotty to appear planned, nip them off the day before the big event if you can’t dig them out properly. Or cover them with newspaper and mulch. Bare space is better than weedy space.
About mulch. Use just one type throughout the garden and make it dark and fine in texture. Cocoa hulls are great, but using them for a large garden can be costly. As an alternative I use composted woody fines or double shredded hardwood bark.
Turn the water on the night before the visit. A chorus line of dark mulch and clean, moist leaves can carry most any show.
For that worst emergency, where an area must be cleared and replanted shortly before a visit, plant simply. Go for elegance rather than splash. Don’t plant regimented rows but clusters of 3. For example, given room for 15 salvias on 6-inch centers, I plant 5 tight clusters of three instead, and give each cluster more space around it than I would give a single plant of its type. The individual plants will maintain glowing good health since they have space to root outward from their cluster, yet have more immediate visual appeal as triplets. Between different types of plants, leave bare space. So if you’re planting a bed with salvia, snapdragon and lantana, and cluster-planted salvia at eight inches between clumps, leave 20 inches of open space between the snapdragon area and the lantana area. Dark, mulched soil will outline each mass, accentuating its difference from the other.
Finally, enjoy the visit. Play your part. Allow yourself to be taken in by your own tricks. Don’t apologize for flaws—your guests probably won’t even notice them if you don’t point them out. Do gush over your successes!
Janet Macunovich is a professional gardener and author of the books “Designing Your Gardens and Landscape” and “Caring for Perennials.” Read more from Janet on her website www.gardenatoz.com.
By Janet Macunovich / Photographs by Steven Nikkila
Dark thoughts haunt me at high summer. As I tend sun-soaked beds, sweat-soaked myself, I find it hard to concentrate on what I’m doing. My mind wanders to shady corners and wooded lots, dappled clearings and deep, quiet, ferny retreats. It’s all I can do to keep my feet from following suit.
From the sunny side, all shade is mysterious. The details of the spot become clear only when you step within the dark. Drawn to a dark corner by the prospect of a cool retreat, I am sometimes disappointed to find shade but little refreshment. Barren ground can do that—hard-packed, lifeless soil can’t provide visual and mental refreshment to accompany the cooler air.
If you have a shaded spot that doesn’t measure up as a garden retreat, chances are that you can change the situation in three steps.
First, beef up the soil. Plants that grow under and around trees in nature do so in decades or centuries of fallen leaf litter. High in humus, it’s moisture retentive and returns to the soil almost all of what was removed to produce those leaves. Soil animals—worms, insects, and microscopic creatures—teem in the rich leaf mold, adding nitrogen and changing leaves into easily-absorbed nutrients.
Our overly-tidy ways lead us to remove fallen leaves and twigs. As a consequence, we create wastelands under trees. The first thing every really successful shade gardener does is add lots of compost—not soil, but compost with its higher organic matter content—and keep adding it every year. This means letting fallen leaves lie, or shredding them and putting them back down. At an older home with older trees, the soil may have been starved for decades, so I often start a new shade garden with a 6- to 8-inch depth of compost. Every year as the plants die back in the fall, I add 1 to 2 inches more. Just don’t stack this topdressing against the tree trunks and the trees will love it too.
Next, throw out your old concept of watering. To grow great plants in the shade you must water the trees first and then the garden. Since a large tree can consume a thousand gallons of water on a hot, breezy summer day, watering a shade garden can mean providing 3, 4, or 5 times as much water as you might in a sunny garden. Soaker hoses woven through the beds might have to run for 4 or 5 hours every second or third day to keep the gardens growing.
Finally, pick plants that love the shade. Stay away from “shade tolerant” plants, which are often lackluster, few-flowered and floppy in the shade. Here are some of my favorite perennials for shade. I group them by the design characteristics that are most important to shade—note that “flower” is not one of these. Blooms are more of a bonus in the shade than anything else. All of the plants on my list do bloom, but none of them has the stunning display of a daisy or a delphinium. Instead, they offer height, texture or foliage color.
Bugbanes (Cimicifuga species), or under the less-common name I prefer to use, fairy candles. Ferny foliage much like an astilbe, with tall wands of white flowers in June (C. racemosa), July or August (C. ramosa), or September (C. simplex). C. racemosa is tallest, at six feet. C. ramosa is 3 to 4 feet tall, and C. simplex usually between 2 and 3 feet. Varieties of C. ramosa with bronze or purple foliage are available. One of the glories of bugbanes is how sturdy and straight they stand in the shade, but be forewarned, if the light is very strong from one side and the shade very deep on the other, they will lean and may require staking.
Meadow rue, woodsy members of the genus Thalictrum. With their columbine-like foliage, they can be mistaken for this lesser plant in early spring, but not once they begin to tower. T. flavum subsp. glaucum is a personal favorite, 5 to 6 feet tall with ghostly blue green foliage and yellow green flowers in June. T. rochebruneanum puts on a show like a 5- to 6-foot mauve baby’s breath in July. Thalictrums often need staking in the shade. Be sure to stake them before they begin to fall, to make the work easier on you, easier on the plant, and more visually pleasing. Although this can be a tedious process, since each main stem will need its own stake, it’s worth it.
Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus). A true aristocrat. Straight, sturdy and reliably showy in June even in the deepest shade—it’s often mistaken for a five-foot shrub with white astilbe flowers. When grown in deep shade, it takes many years of growth for a plant to accumulate the energy to match the stature of its one-year-old sun-grown brethren. To get around this reality, I often grow the goatsbeard in sun for a year to give it some size, then move it into the shade.
Turtlehead (Chelone obliqua, C. lyonii). Three to four feet, straight stems topped with spikes of pink or white flowers in August. An individual floret on the spike of this snapdragon relative resembles a turtle’s head.
Japanese anemone (Anemone x hybrida). Not for everyone, this 3- to 4-foot plant is usually quite the spreader where it’s happy, and quick to disappear where it’s not. September-blooming (it blooms a month earlier in sunnier locations) flowers are white, pink or mauve, resemble single peonies, and varieties with double flowers are available.
Hosta. Of course. Enough said!
Rodgers flower (Rodgersia species). Huge compound leaves may be as big around as a child’s saucer sled. Creamy white flowers cluster in spikes or one-sided clusters on stalks that rise to 3 or 4 feet in June. Grows best where it’s moist, maybe even too moist for other plants.
Variegated brunnera (Brunnera macrophylla varieties). Heart-shaped leaves 9 inches across. Blue forget-me-not flowers on 18 inch stems in May.
Variegated lungwort or Bethlehem sage (Pulmonaria varieties). Leaves streaked, edged or spotted with silver or white form 12-inch mounds. Blue, pink or white flowers on 18-inch stems in April-May.
Golden bleeding heart (Corydalis lutea). Twelve-inch mounds of lacy, blue green leaves with butter yellow flowers from Memorial Day into July. Spreads readily by seed where it’s happy.
Dwarf goatsbeard (Aruncus aethusifolius). Like a tiny astilbe, with creamy white spikelets in May and June.
Tellima (Tellima grandiflora). A mound of slightly furry foliage reminiscent of coral bells. Much more reliable, longer-lived and fuller blooming in shade than a coral bell, though. Flowers are green-white to barely pink on 18-inch stems, in May-June.
Chinese astilbe (Astilbe chinensis). August blooming, and spreading by runners where conditions are good. 18 inches.
Tovara (may be listed as T. virginiana, Persicaria virginiana, or Polygonum virginiana ‘Painter’s Palette’). Long, pointed-oval leaves splashed with white and pink really add spark to shady corners. 18 inches. Flower is white, but not significant.
Golden satin grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’). A 15-inch fountain of gold-edged leaves; not really a grass, but who cares!
Hosta. Again, enough said!
Variegated Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’). Arching stems 18 inches tall, each leaf outlined in white. White bells dangle from the stems in April-May.
Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum var. ‘Pictum’). Silver and maroon marked foliage. Buy it for the color you see, because the variety is quite variable—the plant you buy that is more green than silver won’t become silver later. Loves the drier areas of a garden, once established.
Janet Macunovich is a professional gardener and author of the books “Designing Your Gardens and Landscape” and “Caring for Perennials.” Read more from Janet on her website www.gardenatoz.com.
Continued from page 42 of the April 2013 issue.
Photos by Steven Nikkila
1. Set three-part posts at 15-inch intervals along the desired fence line. Each three-part post consists of:
a. Two flexible weaving wands, 48 inches or greater. If the bottom 18 inches is rigid, not flexible, that’s okay but everything above that must bend easily. If the weaving wand has side branches you will treat the wand plus its twigs as one bundled unit.
b. One stout stake, its top at the desired finished height of the fence.
c. All with their butt ends securely seated in drilled or punched holes about 6 inches deep. Depth of the holes depends on soil type and finished fence height. Looser soil and taller fences need deeper holes.
2. Select a new 3- to 5-foot wand and weave it in and out around 3 or 4 posts. If this wand has side branches, treat it as one bundled unit. Pass alternately behind and in front of three-posts, and thread between each post and one of its weavers.
3. Grasp the left-side weaving wand of post group A. Bend it to meet B, the next post to the right. Wrap down and around the three branches that make up post B, beginning between post B’s stout stake and left-side weaving wand. Wrap around the horizontal wand. Leave this weaver wand’s tip trailing on the ground. If a wand should crack, don’t let it break through completely, or replace it if it does.
4. Now bend and weave post B’s right-hand weaving stem to the left. Thread it between post A and its free weaver, then wrap around that post group.
5. Weave to connect 4 or 5 posts. Then insert another 3- to 5-foot wand horizontally, as in #2, overlapping the first horizontal by half and alternating with it by weaving in and out between the posts.
6. Bend trailing tips of all weaving wands up to wrap around and run with horizontal wands. Tie with twine at intervals as necessary, or snug the wand tips into portions already woven.
7. Insert more 3-part posts and keep weaving.
By Janet Macunovich / Photographs by Steven Nikkila
Politics has made “cover up” a dirty term. Its meaning in the garden has more dignity, although there’s still soil and clever timing at the base.
Spring can be like the glorious first days of a new administration that was voted in by a large majority. Such excitement and promise!
For shame, then, that I’m already looking for a cover up.
The crocuses (especially the early favorite snow crocus, Crocus minimus), snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis), winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis), wood anemones (Anemone blanda), squill (Scilla sibirica), and puschkinia (Puschkinia scilloides) are not of concern. Early to rise, small in stature, and blessed with fast metabolisms, they’re up, bloomed, and neatly gone by early June. Even the grape hyacinth (Muscari sp.) and early species tulips (Tulipa praestans, T. tarda, T. greigii hybrids) of late April and early May aren’t bad—they are short enough and early enough to be only minimally distracting during their exit.
But oh, those daffodils and late tulips! How many times have I muttered over their tired-looking but still green foliage lying around to spoil even July’s show, and vowed never to plant another of these lackadaisical leave-takers? I’ve come close to swearing off bulbs all together, especially when I add in problem children such as the very early bulb iris (Iris reticulata hybrids), which bloom only 3 to 4 inches tall, but follow up with 18 inches of grassy foliage that remains into June, sticking up through other plants begging to be mistaken for invading grass.
Additional challenges present themselves in the form of grassy tufts of fall crocus foliage (Crocus kotschyanus) and clumps of wide, strap-like leaves from colchicum (Colchicum autumnale). What to cover that bare spot during mid-summer, but make it visible again in early October when their short-stemmed, lilac-colored flowers show?
Every year I stumble on, steal, dream up, and improve on techniques to usher bulb foliage out more gracefully. I’m sharing some of my best cover-ups here.
Bring in a sleeper perennial and create a distraction while the two switch places. During this transition period, it helps to create the distraction to one side, with something showy and loud such as bearded iris, early daisy (Leucanthemum varieties) or poppy (Papaver orientale).
Many perennial species wait until the soil warms up to emerge. Many of these sleepers peak in late summer and fall, giving that area of the garden a whole new face for that late season. Planted among the bulbs they are meant to hide, these perennials rise gradually among the bulb foliage, giving the opening act time to ripen and die back its foliage before being swallowed up:
Hardy hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos). Most first-time growers of hibiscus figure it died over the winter, since nothing shows until early or mid-May. A lover of moisture, hibiscus is well-suited to cover bulbs that also like lots of water, such as quamash (Camassia sp. and hybrids) and bulb iris.
Joe pye and its relatives (Eupatorium sp., especially E. coelestinum, the perennial ageratum or blue mist flower). These are often hard to find because garden centers can’t seem to sell them well. In spring, they look like and have all the sales strength of pots of soil. Given a week of warm nights though, they pop up like weeds. Perennial ageratum is worth hunting for, however. Blue flowers in August on 18-inch stems, shallow running roots that allow it to weave among bulbs without interfering with their growth, and a high tolerance for shade are all marks in its favor.
Japanese anemone (Anemone x hybrida). This gem is best for half shade, but willing to perform decently in sun or shade, it too holds back on leaf production until the soil warms, then surges up to hide its predecessor. Coming from many thin, running roots, it doesn’t form dense crowns that can eventually impede a companion bulb’s entry. Its pink, white or mauve flowers on 36-to 48-inch stems are showstoppers in August or September.
It’s best to interplant established bulbs with small, bare root pieces or small pots of these companions. Look for one-quart pots or even smaller plugs.
Establish a self-sowing annual among the bulbs. Pot marigold (Calendula officinalis), garden balsam (Impatiens balsamina), love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) and bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis) are some that I use. Sow the seeds now, pressing them into the soil among the bulb foliage and withholding mulch there until they can emerge and be thinned.
Plant a late spring-or summer-blooming perennial with similar foliage to mask the bulbs’ exit. Daylilies (Hemerocallis) and daffodils are a classic. Sea pink (Armeria maritima), with its grassy foliage, is a natural to hide fall crocus. Blue fescue (Festuca glauca) does a great job of absorbing and hiding bulb iris foliage.
Provide a perennial with wide skirts to spread across the top of the bulb area. Hostas do a great job of hiding bluebells (Mertensia virginica and Scilla campanulata). Perennial fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides) does an admirable job of masking a tulip’s departure.
Use die back shrubs that can be cut back hard in early spring as early bulbs under its branches are beginning the show. Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) and giant allium (Allium giganteum) are a natural combination. Bluebeard (Caryopteris x clandonensis) and other, shorter alliums work well together (Allium moly, A. neapolitanum, A. roseum, A. caeruleum).
Have fun trying these!
By Janet Macunovich / Photos by Steven Nikkila
Much can be said for standing on one’s head. Surprising discoveries await for anyone who will take the time to take a different perspective.
Take garden design for example. “Spring flowers” is a cliché that colors our lives from children’s books to classic literature. So we go into garden design with an overwhelming bias toward flowers. Designs start and sometimes end with pairs made solely for bloom — red tulips (Tulipa ‘Red Riding Hood’) that will bloom with basket of gold (Aurinia saxatilis), blue ajuga (Ajuga repens) with pink species tulips (Tulipa pulchella).
Now try that headstand. Change something, radically. Assume, for instance, that all flowers are invisible. See what happens? Notice anything new? Flowers are, in fact, invisible during the early part of the season. Once the search for flowers ends, we notice that April is full of glorious foliage. Gardens are beautiful regardless of the flowers.
We see leaves, stems, and buds that are fresh, crisp, saturated, unmarred blue, chartreuse, gold, maroon, silver, and other hues intense beyond description. The tones change by the hour and the day, like the very best sunset, so rich and glossy it might be oil on canvas not yet dried. At least once in every lifetime this spectacle grabs the eye, arrests thought, and makes us dewy-eyed about spring.
Then we become jaded. If it doesn’t have or can’t be made to look like it has a big, bright flower, preferably one that looks like a rose, we don’t even see its other qualities.
Think about a favorite garden plant. Now, name its early spring color. Can’t put your finger on it? Maybe your view has been muddied by the “floral perspective.”
What’s more, we’re often still indoors when spring foliage charm takes the stage. Anchored by our winter weight, looking solely for “the first flower,” we miss spring’s entire opening act.
It’s an act that begins long before the flower garden becomes a feature in the landscape. It’s a toe-tapper, guaranteed to overcome off-season inertia and renew one’s faith in the natural world. Make an effort to see it, design for it, and be there.
Take this different, non-floral view as you start into a new design or plan a new perennial, shrub or groundcover combination. Spark the burgundy foliage of emerging peony with the gold of lemon thyme. Reflect the peeling bud caps of quince in the brick-red edge of epimedium leaves. Have some fun and get an extra month from your garden design.
Don’t be surprised if you stop caring about the flowers and they become the surprise.
A climbing rose with foliage that opens bronze-red (‘Henry Kelsey’ is one), against the white peeling bark and lime green leaf buds of seven-son shrub (Heptacodium miconioides)
Blue hostas (like Hosta ‘Blue Cadet’) with Irish green sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum).
Glossy maroon new foliage of Bergenia cordifolia with the silver blue fiddle heads of Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’).
‘Red Carpet’ Sedum, intensely scarlet at the feet of furry, grey-green large-flowered comfrey (Symphytum grandiflorum).
The deep violet foliage of shrubby Clematis recta ‘Purpurea’ leaning against the supportive stems of Ural false spirea (Sorbaria sorbifolia), simultaneously leafing out an indescribably rich, red-edged green.
by Janet Macunovich / photos by Steven Nikkila
“Whose garden is it?” asks the children’s book by that name. Everyone and everything, from the gardener to the rain and the resident rabbit, replies, “It’s mine!”
How true, that so many have claims on a garden. In the case of my own garden and some I tend, the gardener doesn’t even list his or her own claim first, but would answer that question, “It’s theirs and I’m glad. I wished for and worked to attract the birds, the rabbits, the groundhog, the fox, the butterflies and all the rest. With every change, I think about them and how to keep them.”
Life requires all three. If you spring for one—food, for instance—you might nab some visitors if the creatures you’re luring are already nearby because your yard or another property in your vicinity is providing them water and shelter. On the other hand, hang out a hummingbird feeder in a large new development devoid of big trees and though that lure sparkles red in the sun and you change it religiously to keep the syrup from spoiling, you may never see a hummer. The habitat a ruby-throated hummingbird looks for is wooded and though it may fly a mile to feed it wants to nest where it’s woodsy.
So make a list of the wildlife you’d like to see, learn the particulars of their basic recipe, check what’s on hand and what’s missing in your neighborhood that they need, and add what it takes. Go wild!
Food is probably the easiest prescription to fill. Scatter some seed on the ground and you’re likely to get a few sparrows, whose presence may cue birds of other types to come see “what’s up.”
That offering is supplemental food. Make sure your yard also offers natural food if you want the most diversity, all year, without having to break the bank to keep all those hungry beaks and bellies filled. What Nature provides often can’t be duplicated at a feeder: A well-rounded, nutritionally balanced diet.
When you look around your neighborhood to see what it has to offer the wildlife on your invitation list, look for plants that produce seeds and berries. Notice or look up what time of year each crop becomes available.
If you find that every berry bush and seed plant around ripens in late spring or early fall, you might be able to fill the summer and winter gaps with dogwoods for late summer berries, members of the sunflower family that offer up seed at the end of July, or viburnum and hawthorn that carry fruit into winter. You might boost your whole neighborhood’s rating to that of a five-star wildlife resort and at the same time become the best seat in the house because the table will be loaded only in your yard at certain times.
One critical menu item you might overlook is bugs. On the wing, in the ground, as eggs and larvae, they’re lunch to almost everything bigger. Insects are probably even more important to birds than berries and seeds, because they’re a better source of protein. Even birds that eat more fruit than anything else at most times of year will switch to bug collection when they’re raising young. It’s just plain better fuel for getting a nestling up to speed and out on is own.
As you assess your surroundings for wildlife potential, keep an eye open for pesticide use that you might be able to influence, and think hard about your own use of insecticides. This isn’t to say that some bug-killing isn’t warranted, only that the see-bug-kill-bug approach is one that has to be moderated if you’d like to enjoy the company of organisms that are higher on the food chain.
As well as protecting bugs so they’ll be there on the menu for other animals, many people cater to certain insects on a par with songbirds. They do, and you can, provide the plants that caterpillars eat, introduce and nurture fascinating predators such as preying mantises and lightning bugs, and design the landscape so it offers one after another of the flowers that serve nectar-sipping bees and butterflies.
Bees and butterflies may be able to live for days on nectar alone but for most wildlife no meal is complete without a sip of water. Wild animals know where to find it in natural bodies of water, puddles, and tree cavities and crotches that collect rainwater. To tiny critters such as butterflies and hummingbirds, even a dewy leaf is a beverage bar.
Yet drought happens. Then, the water we spill into a birdbath, the sprinkler we leave running and a garden pond or fountain can be lifesavers. Looking for entertainment on a dry summer day? Set up a sprinkler so that it hits shrubbery as well as a lawn or garden, and watch the birds check in to perches high and low for a drink and a wash. Position your chair so you can see both the spot being watered and any place downhill where runoff accumulates, since some species prefer to shower, others to bathe.
Running and dripping water is such a lure that even a simple leaky bucket can call birds from a quarter mile. Try it. Put a very small hole in an expendable bucket and perch it on a bench or table so it drips onto a flat stone. Or leave a hose barely dripping over that same rock. Some member of your wild community will find it, others will notice, and soon a line will form!
You may not realize how important your garden pond is until you make a point of watching it all day or through the night. Toads gather there to mate, frogs take up residence, dragonflies drop their eggs in, and squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, and even deer stop in to sip.
What we saw in our own ponds over the years prompted us to design the one we have now with creature comfort in mind. We made it deep enough that at least some fish would always escape a heron’s fishing spree. We put a layer of sand at its bottom so frogs could dig in and remain at the bottom through winter. At one edge we created a beach—a sloping exit point where birds, snakes or shrews that fall in might be able to climb back out. Within the lined excavation we included a bog, where a depression in the sand can be a butterfly puddling point. We do minimal cleanup in spring to preserve the dragonflies that spend winter there as mosquito-eating larvae.
Whether you set out a simple water bowl for the ducks who forage at the foot of your feeder, fill an old dishpan with sand plus just enough water to form a shallow puddle on top for the butterflies, or go whole hog on a birdbath with fountain, keep two words in mind: clean and safe. Change the water often so mosquitoes can’t breed there, and keep it shallow so the smallest of your visitors can wade without drowning.
Birdhouses and nesting boxes are the first things most people list when asked what “shelter” means in relation to wildlife. Others include the dog hair, yarn and other building materials they set out to be taken by nest builders. Some recognize that they’re providing shelter when they ignore standard pruning practice to leave cluttered crotches and decayed “snags” on trees to serve as nest bases and natural nesting cavities. All of these places and things associated with raising young are shelter but still only one part of a bigger picture.
Safe passage is part of shelter. It encompasses hedge rows that are travel lanes for critters which might otherwise draw the attention of a hawk or owl. Brush piles fall into this category since they can admit wee beasties while keeping out the larger animals that hunt them. Clumps of herbaceous perennial stems left standing over winter count, too, as they may harbor developing caterpillars and ladybugs, or screen the entrance to anything from a chipmunk hole to a fox’s den.
Warming stations are shelter, too. The southeast face of a hedge is the warm spot many creatures seek after a cold night. Even better are shrubs along the east or south side of a building, where the sun warms one side of the plants while the other holds heat that escapes from windows and chinks in the wall. Likewise, the sunny side of a rock pile is a magnet for cold-blooded reptiles. Before you shudder and dismantle your rock wall, consider that it’s also the place where cold-blooded butterflies and dragonflies can warm themselves.
Shelter is also the proverbial port in a storm. When the weather turns ugly, thickets, evergreen trees and dense shrubs can quickly become as crowded as a park pavilion when thunder and lightning interrupt a 4th of July celebration. Trees on the lee side of a slope might serve as a roost for hundreds of birds when strong winds blow during migration time. Even the sheltered side of an ornamental grass becomes a busy spot when winter winds blow.
So set your stage to both invite wildlife and allow you to watch from a prime seat. Pick plants to feed and house those birds, bats, bufos, bugs or bunnies. Cluster them to block the wind and slow a predator. Place the densest groups to the north and west of where you sit so you’ll have a clear view of the troupe that assembles there.
Then, make yourself comfortable and keep binoculars close by. A constantly changing cast of characters will pass though that space, improvising as they do. They may put wear and tear on the set you built, but rein in your urge to tidy it too much. Add more of what you see most used. Intervene if you must but allow some rowdiness because sometimes that’s what brings out the most impressive performances. While other people are filling their photo albums with beautiful still lifes, you’ll be weaving the wild into your life.
Plant early-, mid-season and late-ripening species. Put them where they’ll prosper. Don’t deadhead. Add more of whatever appeals most to “your” birds.
Seed that ripens in early summer:
• Pot marigold (Calendula)
• Tickseed (Coreopsis)
Seed that ripens mid- to late summer:
• Bachelor button
• Bellflower (Campanula)
• Bull thistle
• Love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus)
Seed that ripens in fall and remains available into winter:
• Fountain grass
• Sunflower (annual and perennial species)
When it’s hungry, almost any bird will eat an oil-rich seed such as thistle or sunflower. However, some, such as mourning doves, cardinals, sparrows, house finches and goldfinches, prefer seed and eat more of it than anything else.
Other birds, including orioles, cedar waxwings, robins, thrashers and woodpeckers, are not seen so often at feeders because their diets consist primarily of fruit or insects. To attract fruit and insect eaters, put out fruit and suet cakes.
Both hummingbirds and butterflies sip nectar and may vie for any of the flowers on this list, but most butterflies must perch to feed while hummingbirds can hover.
Nectar drinkers need masses of flowers. A hummingbird may visit 1,000 blooms per day to obtain enough nectar—typically, 1/2 its own body weight in nectar, plus insects and water. So to do the best for hummingbirds and butterflies, stick with what grows well in your garden, and grow a lot of it.
Rose of Sharon
Joe pye weed
The black-capped chickadee we love as a cheery presence at the thistle seed feeder actually prefers to eat insects. Even when provided with plentiful seed, it forages in the garden where it eats large numbers of bugs and their eggs. It eats eggs of moths, aphids, katydids and spiders in winter. During the growing season it’s a very good hunter of moths, caterpillars, spiders, weevils, beetles, flies, wasps, bugs, aphids, leafhoppers and treehoppers.
About those buzzy little wrens who scold at you when you garden too close to their home: Give way! On average, a pair of wrens delivers 500 insects per day to their brood.
By Janet Macunovich | Photographs by Steven Nikkila
Herbaceous plants – annuals, perennials, vegetables, etc., that have no wood to hold them up – are simply columns of fluids. Roughly 95 percent water, they stand because liquid pressure holds their cell walls taught. Remove much and they fold. Wilted plants might recover with watering, but damage is done during the wilt – from localized scarring of tissues and greater susceptibility to diseases that can enter through weakened tissue to the more general stunting that occurs because the plant was not able to photosynthesize while dehydrated.
Photosynthesizing is the harnessing of solar energy to make food. Plants use sunlight to split water and carbon dioxide molecules in their leaf cells, then recombine those ions with pinches of mineral matter to make sugars, starches, cell thickeners, new cells and everything else they need. Sunlight is the fuel, but water is the main ingredient, lubricant, coolant and transportation device in these leafy factories. Water’s atoms become part of the product, but water also keeps all parts supple and cool enough to work and is the conveyer belt which brings ingredients together and moves finished products from leaf to stem and root. In brighter light and warmer air, the plant factory works faster and more water is needed to keep it running.
No wonder plants ask for water every time we turn around in summer. The best thing we can do in July is to make sure you are watering plants wisely, not by rote but using a variety of methods geared to specific plants, soil and weather.
Take the standard rule, to give plants one inch of water per week. Some of us set out rain gauges to measure rainfall, then turn on sprinklers as needed to top up to that one inch mark. Others read cumulative precipitation in newspaper weather charts and drag out hoses when rain doesn’t add up. Both are smart practices, better than setting an automatic system to run every day or two, rain or shine. Yet you can water even smarter.
One inch per week is an average, but all plants aren’t average. Some need more because their leaves lose more water to evaporation, or when they’re ripening fruits, or if they were cut back and must fluff out all new foliage. Big, thin leaves may lose so much water through evaporation on a hot, sunny day that the roots can’t keep up even if a hose drips there constantly. As an example, look at a Ligularia wilted into a green puddle. Many Ligularia plants suffer from root rot in summer too, overwatered by a gardener who reaches for the hose every time the plant wilts. The soil becomes super saturated and airless. Roots can’t burn – oxidize – the starches relayed from the leaves, so they die of starvation and rot.
Some plants need less water than others on a hot or blustery day. Gray, furry or needle-like leaves are designed for minimal water loss. Hairs that make a leaf gray or furry form a layer around the leaf that prevents immediate evaporation or blow-drying of water vapor emerging from pores. The vapor is trapped and sheltered inside the fuzz where it can linger and do its job as a coolant. To grow a gray leaf plant like lamb’s ear (Stachys lanata) next to a wilter like Ligularia, water very carefully, feeling for moisture in the soil at the base of each plant before turning the hose on just one plant or the other.
The amount of water available to roots isn’t based solely on amount of water poured onto the soil – that inch we measure in a rain gauge or in a wide-mouth container set on the ground under a sprinkler. Whether an inch will mean there’s enough, too little or too much water for the roots varies with type of soil, drainage, air temperature and wind.
Sandy soil has large pores – spaces too big to hold water up against the pull of gravity. Water runs through sand more quickly than through the tiny pores in clay or loam. An inch of water applied all at once to sand may be gone in a day though in clay it would have lingered at root tips for a week or more. So sand often needs more than an inch of water per week, meted out by the quarter- or half-inch every few days. Sand’s ability to hold water can be improved by topping it with evaporation-suppressing mulch and mixing into it a generous layer of organic matter or pre-moistened water-absorbent polymers (sold as “Water Sorb,” “Soil Moist,” etc.). These materials can absorb and only gradually lose up to 100 times their own weight in water. Yet even fortified this way, a sandy soil will dry more quickly than clay.
Drainage is the movement of water and air through soil pores. Some soils drain quickly, others slowly. Often the drainage depends on the type of soil well below the surface, so even a sand may drain slowly enough that moss grows on its surface. The only sure way to know how long water lingers in a soil, and how soon life-giving air is also back in the soil after a drenching rain is to dig a hole three to four inches deep and touch the soil. What feels cool is damp, but aerated. What feels warm or hot is dry. Soil that actually wets the fingertip is still draining.
Doing touch tests can be revelatory.
Even within a city lot with homogenous soil, some spots will dry more quickly than others. South-facing slopes and elevated areas may be dry while soil a few feet away is still moist, since ground tipped to the sun is often warmer and elevated sites catch more breeze and lose more water to evaporation. Dry spots in lawn or garden often show in early spring as dead patches or where one group of plants is slow to emerge.
We’re also taught to water gardens less often but more deeply so soil is thoroughly wetted, and probably have been told that watering lightly is bad practice since it “brings roots to the surface.” It’s wrong to think of roots “coming to” anything, but even some of the most scholarly horticultural texts use this phrase that misleads gardeners. As Dr. Joe Vargas of Michigan State University once said in a lecture on watering turfgrass, “I’ve looked at a lot of roots very closely, even dissected them, and one thing I’ve never found is a brain. They don’t know where water is. They can’t sniff it out, either.”
Roots grow if the soil around them is moist enough to supply water and nutrients needed to fuel cell division. They don’t grow if soil around them is too dry. Roots in a dry pocket or dry layer will not move toward moisture.
One thing we learn once we know that roots can’t seek out moisture is that root balls of new plants need special attention. A peat-based root ball of a container-grown plant may dry out far more quickly than the garden loam or clay around it. Roots within the peat will simply stop growing. Until a new transplant’s roots have grown beyond the peat and into the garden soil, its root ball has to be checked separately for dryness even if the soil around it is wet.
Another corollary of “roots can’t go to water” is that although it may be best when sprinkling many flowers, trees and shrubs to water deeply so that the whole depth of the root mass is wetted, plants with shallower roots need frequent, light watering. Lawn roots shorten in summer heat so a daily application of 1/8 inch of water is better than a weekly watering that means days-long drought in the surface layers. Annual impatiens evolved in rich leaf litter in damp jungles, and have shallow roots, too. Water them often, but don’t waste water by applying enough to wet the deeper soil layers every time.
Another thing we hear often is that we should water early in the day, not in the evening, so leaves can dry off before night and be less susceptible to disease. This makes sense, reducing the amount of time that fungus-prone leaves are covered in fungus-promoting films of water, but then how does Mother Nature get away with evening and nighttime watering? Thunderstorms and rain showers come when they will, yet the normal state of being for plants in the wild is one of good health – maybe a bit of fungus here and there, but life-threatening epidemics as seen in rose gardens are rare.
If water is applied deeply and occasionally to supplement rain – perhaps weekly or bi-weekly – time of day is not so critical as in an every-day automatic system. Occasional watering means occasional openings for fungus infection. Daily late-day watering increases the chances of fungus infection by a factor of seven or more.
For some plants, an increased chance of fungus infection may be offset by water’s cooling effect. As temperatures rise into the 90’s, many plants stop photosynthesizing because their root systems can’t supply enough water to keep that process running at the high speed engendered by high heat. Pores in the leaf close, shutting off the upward flow of water like a drain plug in reverse. Without water flow, photosynthesis can’t take place, and the plant can’t produce fresh sugars to fuel its life processes. It lives off its reserve starches until the air cools. Dr. Vargas’ ground-breaking studies of turf irrigation clearly show that watering during the hottest part of the day is best for lawns because it cools the air around the grass, allowing it to continue to photosynthesize.
Other plants are more susceptible to fungus when exposed to drought or alternating wet and dry. If bee balm (Monarda didyma) that thrives in constantly moist soil is kept dry, its chances of developing powdery mildew are greater. Likewise, lungwort (Pulmonaria species) grown with drought-tolerant bigleaf forget-me-not (Brunnera macrophylla) in the dry shade is more likely to develop mildew than if grown in a constantly moist, well-drained hosta bed.
How about all the hype for weeper hoses and trickle irrigation, to conserve water and keep the leaves from ever getting wet? Does it sound like the only good way to deliver water? With weeper hoses, we often see increased spider mite damage. Regular rinsing keeps mites in check. Roadside plants struggling with pore blockage and light reduction under a layer of grime become more susceptible to pests unless rinsed regularly.
If all this seems too much to keep straight, maybe you haven’t been watered well! Why not go sit in the shade, have a drink and think about it? You may see that only one or two of the situations I’ve described here apply to your garden. While the heat’s on and your plants need it the most, fine tune that watering system!
by Janet Macunovich
Photographs by Steven Nikkila
30 years ago, writer Arthur Bloch presented us with Murphy’s Law and a collection of other undeniable ironies. I’m basically an optimist and an opportunist, even a follower of philosophies such as “open your mind and the universe will provide.” Yet I found myself smiling wryly and even agreeing with what Bloch assembled to advance that basic tenet, “If anything can go wrong, it will.”
Over the years bits from that book would come back to me as I gardened. Situations I encountered while digging, planting or designing would strike me as spin-offs from Murphy’s Law and I would think, “There should be Murphy’s Laws of Gardening.”
Recently I reacquainted myself with Bloch’s collection, in Murphy’s Law: The 26th Anniversary Edition (Penguin Group, 2003). I saw that although I recognized the proofs of Murphy’s Law I’d been cultivating, many other dictums in that book were also well established in my gardens. It made me laugh—which is a good thing to do on a day when Murphy’s Law pops up in your garden.
Here are some of those rules and observations from Bloch’s compilation, with examples of where I’ve found them lurking in the garden. Perhaps given these connections, you won’t feel frustrated or critical of yourself the next time you encounter such circumstances. You can shrug off the effects and join me in saying, “Ah well, there’s nothing to be done. It’s all Murphy’s Law!”
Murphy’s Law and its first three corollaries
The Law: If anything can go wrong, it will. Its first corollary: Nothing is as easy as it looks.
One busy spring, I agreed to re-do a condominium entrance bed. It seemed a straightforward job—remove a layer of misbegotten egg rock and plastic, improve the soil and then plant flowers.
Various earlier projects ran long, pushing this make-over into Memorial Day weekend. Hoping to finish the work yet still have a bit of holiday time, we arrived at dawn to begin.
Murphy got there first. We saw the proof after we removed two truckloads of rock and peeled back the underlying plastic. Lying there was Corollary #1 in the form of an additional layer of egg rock and plastic.
Which simultaneously proved Corollary #2: Everything takes longer than you think it will. This bed renovation was going to go way over estimate.
With elegant simplicity, the situation moved right along to Corollary #3: Whenever you set out to do something, something else must be done first. What that meant in this case was that because the landfill closed early on holiday weekends, anything dug after noon this day was going to remain in my truck to complicate the beginning of my next project.
New solution—new problem
Sometimes proofs take longer to develop. Such was the case the first time I recognized the garden variety of Corollary #4: Every solution breeds new problems.
It began one fall when I decided to repel bulb-digging squirrels with predator urine. At the garden center I considered my choices—fox, coyote or bobcat urine. Knowing there was a fox that visited the target area regularly, it seemed unlikely the local squirrels would find fox scent repulsive. At the other end of the scale, bobcat urine seemed like overkill. Thus I bought and used the coyote product.
That night, strange warbling noises woke the owners of those urine-marked gardens. Through the window they saw the fox, pacing back and forth along the marked beds, keening and yodeling.
Curious about the fox’s behavior, I cracked my books and came across reports that foxes will not share territory with coyotes. No wonder our fox was upset. He thought a coyote had moved in.
The true level of upset wasn’t apparent until late the next summer. Then, I’d been dealing with two first-ever situations for that garden—a plague of voles and an influx of rabbits. As I baited a live trap for rabbit, I mused “Why now?”
An answer leapt full blown into my head, the sum of a year’s worth of not-seeing.
“Have you seen the fox at all this year?” I began asking everyone who watched that garden. As more voices tolled the negative, my conviction grew more firm: With that bulb-protecting coyote urine we had repelled our resident rodent- and rabbit-control agent.
Not nice to fool Mother Nature
I thought I’d learned all I needed to learn from this episode but another lesson remained. Slow to germinate but full of certainty, Corollary #5 of Murphy’s Law completed the picture: Mother Nature is a bitch.
When a new fox finally filled our vacancy several years later, we called all the neighbors to come see his tracks across a late spring snow. Maybe if we hadn’t shared the news the good feeling would have lasted longer. But just a few weeks later the reports began to add up. This new fox was one that preferred raiding garbage cans to earning an honest living nabbing voles and rabbits.
An assortment of other laws and their gardening proofs
Let’s see if you can smile too, about what goes wrong in your garden. Think about these other laws, precepts and axioms as they relate to garden snafus.
Leahy’s Law states: If something is done wrong often enough, it becomes right. This is the complete and only explanation for volcano mulching.
Sodd’s Second Law is: Sooner or later, the worst possible set of circumstances is bound to occur. Sodd grins “Gotcha!” when you find yourself volunteered to a committee to landscape the church front entry and the majority of the other volunteers have never grown anything except opinions. And when you learn the soil in the entry area is not only brick hard but full of buried wires and pipes. And the budget for plants is suitable only for seeds. And the pastor informs you that the Sunday School classes should be allowed to help in planting.
Consider Commoner’s Law of Ecology: Nothing ever goes away. This is not just law but religion among members of the species Canada thistle, scouring rush and bindweed.
Help yourself by helping others recognize the Unspeakable Law: As soon as you mention something, if it’s good, it goes away. If it’s bad, it happens. Watch and listen for this before your next backyard party. Keep a gag at hand, ready for use when an uninitiated person looks out over your garden and unwittingly begins the charm that calls this law into play, “Oh, how pretty! People will love those tall blue flowers! I hope it doesn’t rain.”
At work one day measuring a property for design, I stumbled upon a haphazard jumble of pots in a shrub-choked ravine. These pots still contained potting soil, still sported tags bearing the names of desirable exotics, and in some cases still held plant remnants. Peering up toward the house through bramble branches I saw this pile was an easy sidearm toss away from the deck and recognized its existence as proof of Fahnstock’s rule for failure: If at first you don’t succeed, destroy all evidence that you tried.
Irene’s Law is: There is no right way to do the wrong thing. It’s so simple that any transgressions can be dumbfounding. Such was the case when a man who had sold his house to my friend Sue returned the next year at “just the right time” to give her a pruning lesson. His intent: to be sure she knew the right way to prune the flowering dogwood to maintain its perfectly round lollipop figure.
Cooke’s Law (It is always hard to notice what isn’t there) is actually pretty handy: I’ve seen it employed when two parties have joint ownership of an overplanted landscape or crowded woodlot. One party embraces the premise “something has to go” while the other stands on vague principle in objection to any removals. If the party in favor of reduction recognizes the applicability of this law, he or she might look for an opportunity in the form of the other party’s next business trip or out-of-town retreat. Should tree cutters or landscapers come then, it may be months before the objector even notices any change.
Philo’s Law has comforted me when I find myself dealing with people who don’t “get it.” It is: To learn from your mistakes you must first realize that you are making mistakes. Most recently, it came to mind as I exchanged emails with a gardener who had asked, “What can I use to get rid of powdery mildew? I’ve lived here about twelve years. I spray the garden every week with an insecticide-fungicide-fertilizer mix, but I can’t seem to beat the mildew.”
Janet Macunovich is a professional gardener and author of “Designing Your Gardens and Landscape” and “Caring for Perennials.” Read more from Janet in her newsletter available by writing to WhatsComingUp@gmail.com.