Mary Ellen Collins
John and I aren’t inclined to make New Year’s resolutions, but we did decide that our goal for 2022 will be to simplify. This is not easy for two people who do way too many errands and often make projects more complicated than they need to be. But we are craving a calmer life with less self-induced stress – even with hobbies that are supposed to make us happy. Like gardening.
As someone who has always loved having my hands in the dirt, I’ve never gotten over leaving New England. For the first few years we lived here, I remained in shock that I couldn’t create a yard covered with swaths of lilac bushes, lilies of the valley, or hydrangeas. Though the nurseries do carry those little hydrangeas you can plop in a container, that is far different – and less satisfying – than cultivating mounds of bushes filled with cobalt blooms as big as your head.
On walks around Old Northeast it was easy to see what kind of plants flourished in the ground. Crotons. Schefflera. Bromeliads. Ixora. Oyster lilies. Purple heart. I strongly disliked all of them, but I was determined to find things that would thrive here, add color to the landscape, and make me less homesick.
When we moved into our current house, I started out the intention of doing all of my gardening in the ground, even though we had an overgrown jungle of a backyard. We began by dismantling the bug-infested raised planting bed that the previous owners were using. With hindsight being 20/20, we should have wondered why they opted for that over working the land.
We removed dead trees, hacked out scraggly native plants, and broke up the remnants of an ancient concrete water feature. A bunch of huge rocks, perfect for a rock garden, hid beneath the overgrowth. I heaved them into a nice design and mapped out areas for annuals, perennials, and herbs. We were surprised to find that the ground was mostly sand mixed with lots of stones and very little actual soil, so we amended it. A lot. And we planted many things, some of which grew, but few of which thrived.
After a few disappointing planting seasons we gave up, turned the back yard into a patio, and became container gardeners. This has worked well enough that we now have 57 of them out back, out front, on the screened porch, and in the carport. We’ve had some successes — lime and Meyer lemon trees; rosemary, oregano, and basil; blue daze and Mona lavender; and pentas, so many pentas. But we’ve had too many labor-intensive failures – holly trees, a gardenia, and hibiscus plants; cilantro and dill; and the supposedly easiest things in the world to grow – zinnias. Then there are the frustrating things that sometimes work beautifully for us and sometimes don’t work at all – porterweed, New Guinea impatiens, and vinca. It’s enough to make a sane gardener scream. And that’s been a wake-up call that fits right into our quest for simplicity.
We don’t need to be watering, fertilizing, weeding and constantly rearranging 57 containers filled with things that do work, might work, won’t work. We don’t need to make endless trips to nurseries to waste money on experiments and replacements. This is the year to plant a few proven winners; and supplement my need for blooms with cut flowers from Trader Joe’s and Little Pond Farm. Dead things will feed the composter; unused pots will go to friends and neighbors; and space will open up on the patio and the porch. Aaahhh, I feel better already.