Thursday, April 5, 2012

Making Light of Garden Chores and the Last Frost Date: The One Thing You Must Do in Your Garden

A few pictures from the 2011 Garden Walk at Dr. Darrel Apps' Wisconsin garden.

You can have a nice garden or you can obsess. Last year, you may remember, my across the street neighbor, Dr. Darrel Apps, was planning to show his garden as part of the Kiwanis' Random Acts of Culture Show. From the minute the snow cleared in late May he was a whirling dervish of gardening activity.

It wore me out just watching.

His garden, when the time came was just perfect. He asked me to help docent his garden. It was a blast.

This year with my Handsome Son's graduation, it's my turn. Of course, my yard has to be ready about the time Darrel was actually able to get out in his to begin.

So, as neighboring gardeners are want to do, Dr. Apps has walked through my garden with me, and I through his, discussing for the most part perennial weed control and the crazy weather we have had. It seems the weather people will throw out a freeze warning at the drop of a hat. I had frost on my car yesterday morning and again this morning. But frost and FROST are two different things.

My mother and father, always full of doom and gloom (my father had a cousin who verbally recounted to him her memories of the "Year Without a Summer"), call me on a regular basis to tell me the temperature is going to get down to 24 degrees Fahrenheit (or some other abysmal number).

I'm a bit more pragmatic. I know that the tender-looking flowers already in bloom make their own sort of internal anti-freeze. I know most apple and fruit trees freezing is not freezing, but a temperature somewhat lower. And although I have my cactus and several other xeric plants out on my deck that are zone 8 to 10, it is not only freezing temperatures but how long the temperature stays that low. Also, the ground has been fairly warm for quite a while now. So the air warms up pretty quickly when the sun comes up.

Freezing just doesn't stay freezing for very long.

So when I come home from an appointment and see Darrel out with his new camera taking a picture of his beautiful bush covered with creamy sprays of flowers at the corner of his cafe latte painted garage, I can't resist.

"What are you taking pictures of that UGLY shrub for?" I holler out my car window. "You missed it! It was so much prettier two days ago," I add another gardener lament.

"I'm trying out my new camera, I can't get it to focus," he says.

Sure enough, new camera with cool lenses and all the bells and whistles. I wonder how he got Marilyn to release the purse strings long enough for his to persuade her to allow him its purchase. Then it comes to me. It, the camera, is not a plant. She has a harder time with him buying plants.

"So, is it going to freeze again?" he asks with a twinkle in his eye. "There is no global warming, you know," he adds with a laugh.

"Oh, it might touch 29 or 30 a couple times, if it is clear around the full moon, but nothing serious. The ground is just too warm, I reply.

And so it has happened, the Dreaded Darrel Time Suck, as my son calls it. We can't resist talking gardening to each other. I'm sure Marilyn has a word for it, too. For the outside world time travels on at a regular pace. When gardeners get together time slows down. It seems as if mere minutes have passed. I'm pretty sure I made him late for supper by the time we had toured each others' gardens and he had shown me what all (among which are the likes of 2,300 new daylily crosses) he has growing in his grow room under artificial lights.

He remarks I have a fairly good start on getting my yard ready for the party.

Our garden styles are dramatically different, so this is a big kudos. He's an old school IPM and chemical guy, where I'm always attempting to make sense of the latest organic trend. Two gardeners with the same appreciation trying to get to garden nirvana on two very different paths. Ours are the "two paths that diverged in the woods" of Robert Frost fame.

Instead of bagging most of my yard waste, that which is weed free gets spread on my alley border bed. If it is primarily pine needles onto my blueberry beds it goes. All that stuff I shred to prevent identity theft goes under (most of the time) a layer of pine needles.

He looks at my beds filled with yard waste.

"I might spread a thin layer of cypress mulch on top for the party," I concede.

"Oh, it looks okay as it is," he replies. Then he drops his three little words of wisdom, "Clean bed lines."

He is so right.

If I were to give any gardener advice, It would be the same. Good clean crisp bed lines clearly marking nice green weed-free grass (I hand dig my dandelions, as does the 80-year-old organic gardener next door to Darrel!) and garden beds is key to having a beautiful garden. I have this long curvaceous bed line running almost the length of my yard. When I clean up this bed line it is sheer beauty to behold.

So for all the things I can not fix in my garden quickly and easily this is one thing I can and will do. I will have clean bed lines. You might find a weed or two among my flowers, or some sickly looking artichokes, but you won't remember them. It will be the overall presentation of the garden you will remember. That comes down to clean bed lines framed by a lush grass path.

My garden on the same day as Dr. Apps' 2011 Garden Walk.

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