Flow with it if you can
Published 9:00 am Sunday, May 15, 2022
Dissonance is a real thing in the garden, often rearing its stress-inducing head in everyday “darned if you do, darned if you don’t” dilemmas.
I spent two hot, sweaty hours this week pulling a plant that I cherish, muttering all the while about all the little plantlets I missed. On one hand, it’s a durable, evergreen shrub with multiple landscape values. On the other hand, it takes over entire flower beds, crowding out everything else.
I hesitate telling you the plant’s name, lest the mere invocation jinx my efforts to ease it out of my garden, or someone get the idea that I don’t treasure the plant in spite of its rambling proclivity. Suffice to say, I planted it because I wanted it, but now I have more than I can handle.
I guess I could ignore it, but that is a fateful decision in its own. And my tiny garden doesn’t have the luxury of room for the plant to run amuck. Besides, though I’m not one to let things slide, I subscribe to a simple platitude from the 1960s I posted over my computer that is still relevant today. In order of importance, “If you can’t fix it, flee it, or fight it, flow with it.”
I know, some folks say only a dead fish goes with the flow. But when conventional wisdom for dealing with quicksand is to relax, lay back and float on it, then slowly backstroke towards firm ground; that’s much easier said than done as your brain screams for you to thrash about.
Luckily, most of our garden problems are not as urgent, don’t require such fast, dramatic decisions. Plant pests aside, most garden problems are not life or death situations and can be mulled over awhile until an agreeable resolution is found.
There are a few pressing situations, for sure. I occasionally surprise errant birds, bats, snakes, lizards, woods roaches, and termites in my house. Gotta get up and do something. And that time a tree fell on my truck and broke open, spilling a hive of surprised and upset honeybees. And my water garden fountain pump once broke and fouled the pond and its fish with oil. And I overdid the nitrogen in my compost pile and it temporarily caught on fire. Those were all emergencies.
But what about when you find yourself with a major garden dilemma for which all solutions are equally difficult? Say you have a volunteer oak seedling that promises good shade but sprouted in the crack of the sidewalk? And will eventually destroy the pavement while shading out the sun-loving daylilies? A shade tree is certainly valuable, but does it stay or should it go?
There are other very desirable plants which, once established, are close to impossible to control. Pulling isn’t fun, but spraying with herbicides isn’t always practical, and neither keep more weeds from coming back from bulbs runners, or seeds.
Dissonance is a fantastic motivator, to fix what you can as easily as possible. With the tree, maybe you could learn to love hostas, ferns, and other shade plants. Gardening is more than mowing grass, right?
As for the pretty weeds, my best advice, which I personally dislike but have no dependable professional alternatives, is to pull the plants, mulch heavily, then in a few weeks pull what I missed and mulch some more. Gets easier each time when we stay on top of it. Meanwhile, repeat the pull/mulch thing until you win or move.
Life is short, and the garden is the last place to have worries. Flow with it if you can.
Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.