The Dirty Truth about Gardening Part 2 Trees, Shrubs and Other Stuff!

By: Anne Corke

Nov 12 2011

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Category: Gardening

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I’m back again with more of the dirty truth about gardening. This time the subjects are trees, shrubs and anything else that comes to mind!

1. Fruit (and nut) trees are messy. We have a Cortland apple tree in our backyard. While fruit trees are lovely in blossom time, they can be a lot of work when the fruit starts to fall. For the past month, I have been collecting buckets of windfalls on an almost daily basis. If I leave them, they get squashed by the lawnmower and attract wasps. And we don’t spray so it’s hard to find unblemished fruit for the table. Most of the crop goes to feed the birds, deer, raccoons, coyotes, skunks and other assorted local wildlife. Inspired by the poem about the village smithy, my husband fancied a chestnut tree. We planted it near the apple tree. We watched and waited as it grew and were thrilled when it finally started to bloom. Well, guess what! Now I have chestnuts to pick up, too! I’m not quite as enamored as I once was. Thirty years ago, my Dad and I planted two mountain ash trees in the backyard. Also known as rowan trees, they are believed to keep evil spirits away from your house. These trees produce copious amounts of berries, much to the delight of the robins, but many of the berries fall to the ground and on to the track at the west end of Jeremy’s garden railroad, creating another fine mess to clean up. At least the berries are small enough that those that fall on the lawn soon disappear into the grass. We also have two gingko trees, one of which is a female. They say that gingko fruit stinks to high heaven, but since the trees don’t produce any fruit until they’re about sixty years old, that won’t be my problem. It may however be Jeremy’s!

2. If you plant dwarf shrubs, do not, I repeat do not, prune them. Once pruned, your dwarf shrub will revert to it’s normal growth patterns and will outgrow that vacant spot that was just crying out for such a charming petite specimen. I was foolish enough to prune my dwarf burning bush (maximum three feet high and wide according to the tag) and it now stretches up to the eaves on the north side of the house and across to the neighbour’s property, effectively blocking the gate. A few years ago, at a garden centre in Lindsay, I found a lovely upright cedar, variety “Unicorn”, which grows to a maximum height of four feet, a perfect size to plant at the corner of the house. Stupidity, they say, is the inability to learn from one’s mistakes. And I am shining proof! Yes, we pruned the Unicorn cedar, and yes, it’s now well over seven feet high and whacks the eaves mercilessly when the wind is up. Now, it’s an ongoing task to keep it trimmed back and clear of the eaves. I should have left well enough alone.

3. Don’t plant fragile plants in the backyard if you have dogs. Who wants to spend all summer chasing the dogs away from the gardens? No matter how well trained your dog may be, all it takes is one squirrel to run through the yard and your garden will be trampled. Don’t make life miserable for yourself and your dogs, just plant something that can handle some traffic! I have found daylilies, hostas, peonies, liatris and coneflowers stand up to rough play quite well, although one of the daylilies got flattened this summer by a certain small terrier who was hunting chipmunks. Save the delicate flowers for the front yard!

4. Change is good! As time goes on, your tastes will change, but that’s okay. I can’t remember how many different plants have come and gone from my rock garden. I started out by planting small spreading plants, low sedums, creeping phlox, woolly yarrow, and so on. A few years down the road, I thought I had a better idea and I ripped them all out, except for a dwarf goatsbeard and a few elephant ears, and planted cotoneaster, juniper and other low growing shrubs. A few more years passed and I got tired of them, especially the cotoneaster which was taking off in all directions! Out came the shrubs. I moved on to irises, daylilies and geraniums. And now, I’m thinking about redoing it yet again.

5. Gardening in awkward spots should be avoided. As in the case of the aforementioned rock garden, gardening on a slope or in any spot which requires you to perform contortions to attend to the plants (see previous posts about the railway garden) is probably not a good idea. While it may be a minor inconvenience when you are young and fit, as you get older you will find that it becomes a very daunting task to weed, plant or mulch in such places. The chances of slipping and falling, or of twisting your ankle or knee, multiply exponentially as you attain maturity! Of course, you young folks may think that you will never get old, but you will. It doesn’t hurt to plan ahead lest you find yourself in my position wondering what on earth to do with that rock garden! I could grass it over but that would entail me removing some very large, very heavy rocks, not to mention finding homes for the plants that live there. Good thing gardening season is over for this year so I can sit and cogitate on this issue!

5. You win some, you lose some. I have a beautiful false indigo which took a number of years to establish. Just as it was reaching it’s full glory, disaster struck. One morning I noticed one of the stems on the ground. It was almost broken off so I trimmed it back. Next morning, a couple more stems were down, and it just got worse. We discovered that the culprits were the neighbourhood rabbits. To thwart their attacks, we fashioned a chicken wire fence to surround it. Said fence is still keeping the bunnies at bay. That was one of the garden battles that I won. The lily battle however was lost. I had several lilies on the south side of the house which flourished for many years until the Peterborough area suffered an invasion of lily beetles. If you have lilies, you know where this is going. At first I tried knocking the little red devils off with a spray of water, and then I tried handpicking them and squashing them. I even resorted to insectide, but no matter what I did, there were more and more of them every day. The lilies were being decimated and it seemed that there was nothing that would stop the carnage. In the end, I decided that, for my own sanity, the best thing to do was to admit defeat, remove all the lilies and move on. After all, your garden is supposed to be a haven of tranquility not a battleground!

6. The best laid plans…  When you are creating a new garden, much time is spent researching plant material and drawing up plans. But regardless of the amount of time invested, it’s quite likely that your garden may not turn out exactly as anticipated. It may start out as planned but it will morph over time as your ideas change, your tastes change, perhaps even your conditions change as your trees and plants grow. A garden is never finished, but not to worry. It’s the journey, not the destination, that matters.

7. Make your garden as easy care as possible. Mulch like mad to keep the weeds down. Install edging so you don’t have to haul out the weedeater every time you mow. Plant low maintenance drought resistant perennials, shrubs, vines and trees. Build a raised bed garden for your veggies and save your back. Don’t obsess about your lawn. Let it go brown midsummer. It’ll recover with the fall rains and besides you’ll save yourself some mowing. Check out gardening books for more great ideas to allow you to spend more time enjoying your garden instead of working in it. A good one to start with is Rusty Rake Gardening by Dave and Cathy Cummins.

8. Your garden is perfect for you. Don’t let anyone tell you what your garden should or shouldn’t be. Your garden is an expression of yourself and your tastes, so please yourself! Some gardeners obsess about the latest garden trends. Whether it’s black foliage, architectural plants, clumping grasses or water features, they are never happy unless their garden reflects the current fad. Leave them to it! For me, the most appealing gardens are not those formal gardens created by professional gardeners at great cost to the homeowner. Oh no, it’s the small, intimate gardens with lots of charming little details that tell me something about the person who created the garden. It’s the welcoming intimate gardens which invite you to sit awhile or to wander down a winding path to see what’s around the corner. Instead of trying to keep up with the Joneses, relax and enjoy your garden.

Copyright 2011 Anne Corke

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