Think About It

The Low Maintenance Garden

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | April 26, 2014

“Gardening requires lots of water – most of it in the form of perspiration.”
Lou Erickson

After a rather long and robust winter here in southeastern Pennsylvania, it is time to get my hands dirty in my flower garden. A week or so ago I cleaned up the leftover leaves from last fall. And there were quite a few. More than I expected. 

They were matted up against the fence, intertwined in the center of my seven hibiscus plants and even flattened on top of, what will emerge again, this year’s crop of mint tea. I removed most of them with my steel tine rake but I still had to reach down and remove many of them one by one by hand.

But once that task was done, I knew I was ready to prepare the beds for fresh mulch. For Evie, my dear wife who was raised in the city, that fresh mulch smell will give her reason to hurry from the car to the house. For me, who will always be a farm boy at heart, I will walk slowly from the car to the house as I savor the fragrance of springtime. 

Preparing those flower beds for fresh mulch and then later the annuals is not an easy task. I have read the articles on “The Low Maintenance Garden.” Some might even imagine a garden that is “no-maintenance.” According to R. Lentz, “Here are the true no-maintenance options: living in an apartment with no yard to take care of, or paying someone ELSE to do the maintenance (and having all the fun).” 

Charles Elliot says that even a “low maintenance garden” is an oxymoron. I can identify with Charles Dudley Warner who said, “What a man needs in gardening is a cast iron back, with a hinge in it.” Or, as I have often said with sweat dripping from my face, “Without a gardener there is no garden.”

As soon as I finish writing this essay I am heading outside to do the work of a gardener in the spring. I will wear my gardening clothes (don’t ask), gather my gardening tools and get to work. First I will stroll around every plant and flower bed that will need attention and size up exactly what I need to do. 

I already know I will be thinning out some zebra grasses and transplanting some of the flowering bushes. I might even spread out my hostas to allow their big green leaves to make an even bolder statement than they made last year. Of course, this is also the time to remove the weeds and seedlings that are in the wrong place.

If I were to walk through your garden or if you were to walk through mine, we would learn a lot about each other. You would find out I don’t have many white flowers. White flowers of any kind do not usually speak to me. Cultivating them always seems like a waste of time. I love bold colors … lots of them. 

As Robert Dash said, “All gardens are a form of autobiography.” From me you would learn that I like fragrance as well as color. From my herb garden to the lilac bushes and from the manarda to marigolds, I love their unique smells. Whether I am starting out my day early in the morning or I am taking a casual walk in the evening, I love the different smells which accentuate the different colors in my flower garden.

You would also learn I don’t grow many vegetables. Growing vegetables reminds me of the family garden I grew up with where, as a child, I did a lot of work. Flowers are fun. Vegetables are work.

I love writing my weekly essay, but the best part of writing this one is that I am now done and I am going outside to work in my flower garden. 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, Pa. 
Responses can be mailed to president@vfcc.edu 
Official page: Facebook.com/DrDonMeyer
Follow on Twitter: @DrDonMeyer
Archives at www.vfcc.edu/thinkaboutit

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