I appreciate little things while driving around town. Perfect diagonal lines in lawns created by tractors or mowers. Flowers, fresh produce and eggs on homemade stands where customers put money in “honor boxes.” Beautiful gardens free of weeds in the middle of a July heatwave.
In New England, we strive for perfect lawns and gardens, but Mother Nature has a way of showing who’s boss by late July. Flowers and bushes wilt. Lawns burn. Hideous weeds sprout in sidewalks, patios and driveways. The air smells like Roundup.
Some people have gardeners, but seriously? I’d be embarrassed to have a professional in my yard. That includes my older sister, who’s president of her garden club and has magnificent gardens with pergolas and trellises surrounding her Colonial. I guess we know who got the green thumb.
Like cooking, decorating, parenting and writing, I garden by instinct. I have a great landscaping book with layouts, but I mostly do what I want and it shows. My garden is a hodgepodge of plants and shrubs intermingled with herbs, annuals and an interesting rock or two.
At this point, the front yard has been mulched, but the back hasn’t. One mulch bag has been dormant near the patio for two years. I guess it shows that my intentions are good or my kids don’t listen when I ask for help.
Admittedly, some of this mess stems from a two-week vacation (sloth?). Like a dog who finds mischief when she doesn’t get her daily walk, gardens rebel when they’re ignored for even a few days.
Right now, my patio is riddled with weeds and the bushes have taken on a life of their own. One of my beautiful hanging baskets is dead, and the other is fading. (We won’t tell my curmudgeon about this or my plans to replace them.)
I know what I need to do, but I don’t feel like doing it. Like parenting and pet ownership, gardening is a long-distance race and we’re on a steep hill that I don’t feel like climbing. When it’s 90 degrees outside with high humidity, I’d rather bask in the arctic blast at the CVS drive-thru window than pick up a rake or clippers.
As my curmudgeon reminded me, gardening in July is “the tipping point. You’re off to a good start, but do you want to give up and go brown or finish strong? It’s time for affirmative action or throwing in the towel.”
Give me a minute to think about that.
Today while driving to pick up my daughter across town, I saw gardeners out for the first time in days. They were ready for business, eager to recover what began with such promise in April. Most were veterans – middle-aged men and women with weed wackers, wheelbarrows, pruning knives and shears.
These gardeners know the drill. They realize that if you’re going to have a nice yard in the Northeast, you’ve got to pace yourself. You want to finish strong when it’s time for the mums, pumpkins, fall aeration and Step 4 of Scott’s lawn care treatments.
Every spring, a family about a mile away christens spring with a bang. They mulch early, get the lawn in shape and diligently tend to their gardens. By June, the place looks great, but then reality – and July – sets in. I drove by today and it’s a tangle of weeds three feet high.
I know, I know, people with weed-choked yards shouldn’t throw stones, but your eye is sharper when training on something new. You can’t see your own facial hair, dog fur on your carpets or how how filthy your house really is. The first thing I said after being away for two weeks was, “Man, this place is a mess.”
After the Unabomber struck at Yale University in New Haven, CT., a reporter colleague asked an editor to look at his treatise, saying perhaps he could uncover something with “fresh eyes.” He didn’t, but I give him credit for trying. As a friend reminded me when a former boss (idiot) said writers can edit their own work, “Everyone needs an editor. You can’t see your own mistakes.”
I’ve decided to go into recovery mode this year. I worked too hard on my lawn to watch it revert to a dirt mound. I’m turning on the sprinkler, feeding my plants and dead-heading the geraniums. This year, I’m going the distance.