GARDEN THERAPY: “Grumpy Gardener Needs Garden Therapy” — October 2018

By Mel Bellar

I spend a lot of time in my car because of my work and the fact that I live in Andes (where nothing is close, thank goodness.) My clients live everywhere from Woodstock to Treadwell, with a few outliers even farther away. When I got tired of the Sirius radio content and the frequent dead areas I started listening to a lot of podcasts. Many folks living here don’t even have cell phones, much less smart phones, and thus they don’t have any desire to delve into deeper technology. However, podcasts are a wonderful way to turn car time into educational and entertainment time (I love me some car time.) For me, podcasts are better than books on tape because they come in smaller doses and don’t tempt me to drive around all day just to hear the ending of a story. Podcasts are short (10 minutes to an hour) recorded segments of any sort of content ranging from specific radio shows to original content made solely for the podcast format. You can listen to anything from political content (whole spectrum), educational content, to more esoteric topics like Romanian folklore, and unsolved crime cases! There are dozens of great gardening-related podcasts out there and I follow several of them. One of them is called the Grumpy Gardener. He is a southern guy and actually not grumpy at all. Seeing as how I am a serious expat from the south and have no reason to deal with southern plants and problems, I don’t really closely follow his show. However, as I was trying to get inspired to write my column yesterday I realized that I was becoming the real grumpy gardener! This time of year, until it is actually fall, all I seem to want to do is whine and complain.

So, I was out in the garden yesterday checking out the good, the bad and the kind of ugly. The gardens have been absolutely beautiful this year, but by this time, after all of the continued rain and humidity there are STILL a lot of things falling into the paths and looking really beat from the heat and wet. Plants have grown remarkably tall and full this year causing more flopping and congestion than usual. The extra rain made everything beautiful and lush, but now things have reached a tipping point. This happens more often with established and denser gardens like mine, but this year it seems to be happening everywhere. Perhaps this is just my warped perception (being a perfectionist and all.) My wife always tells me that other folks just don’t see gardens the way I do.

While I was walking around the garden mentally whining, I got my trusty scissors and little hand-held pruners and started cutting away a few things here and there that especially bothered me, including a wayward branch from a juniper. Before long I had gotten out my big loppers and was limbing up and cutting browning limbs out of the upright cedars in front of the main path to the front steps.This exposed the flowering obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana) and firetail fleece flower (Persicaria aplexicaulis.) That inspired me to cut back the mildewed David phlox (really bad this year) even further to accentuate the good stuff. Then I noticed that the golden creeping oregano lining part of the gravel path would benefit from a haircut, removing the spent foliage on top and exposing the fresh growth underneath. Before long I was in a full frenzy of cutting back, fine tuning here and there and generally fluffing up the main garden. I felt a lot better! Whether or not anyone else would see a huge difference is irrelevant.

What the grumpy gardener needed was some of his own medicine: garden therapy! I often say to myself (and whoever else might listen) that I am a victim of inertia: I have trouble getting started and I have trouble stopping. Although I know that playing in my garden is one of my favorite things, it often just seems too overwhelming to take the plunge. After I get started, I can’t stop until it is totally dark, or Peggy makes me come inside.

I constantly have to reinforce the things I learn from year to year and what the garden teaches me: Change is inevitable and challenging, particularly when dealing with nature. I just have to accept that and go with the flow. As I always say to my clients: “Nature is fickle,” and sometimes there are just no explanations.

I can’t do it all at once.  I just have to do it one little bit at a time and enjoy the process (which I usually do!)

Clearing away the clutter and leaving the good stuff is always a good thing. Minimize the bad stuff, be grateful and accentuate the good stuff.

Patience is required! I have to accept that things are going to look sad for some time in the late Summer/early Fall before they look great in the late Fall and Winter. This one is hard for me, but I am good with waiting for things to grow.~

Mel Bellar is the owner of Zone4 Landscapes and a passionate Andes gardener