The benefits of ruthless gardening

    My aunt was my earliest gardening mentor. One afternoon while weeding her garden with my assistance, she announced I’d never become a gardener worthy of the name until I could become ruthless. It took me a long time to learn the lesson but last weekend I proved I’m a real gardener.
    Two changes in the front garden precipitated the destruction I rained down this week. One was the removal of an ornamental pond that emptied one side of our front garden. We decided to let the fill settle for a year before replanting, so it was a mess. A little later, across the garden, an old spruce had to be removed. That flooded what had been deep shade with sun so we ended up with a mess on both sides of the front yard.
    Replacing the pond had priority so the area was planted last year. The new plants are thriving. While my layout may not be the best, the area is mulched, neat and full of flowers. The bed where the spruce reigned supreme remained wilderness, however, filled with weeds and the remains of the shade garden.
    Friday afternoon, I decided that had to change. Weeds like oxalis were the first thing to go. Huge hostas were uprooted and set in the shade to await their fate along with some painted ferns and brunnera. Next we went to battle with the gooseneck loosestrife. This is well-behaved in shade; a thug in the sun. It had crept everywhere and had to be dug out. With my husband’s assistance almost everything else went, too – misplaced columbines (I saved the seed heads), geraniums and seedling lupines went to the compost pile. By that evening all that remained was a stand of Joe Pye weed, six common milkweed plants I’d put in for the monarch butterflies and a single miniature forsythia bush.
    Sunday, I decided there was one more part of the job to tackle. Our nearby ‘Annabelle’ hydrangeas had spread almost as much as the loosestrife. They had crept along, muscling their way across the yard. It was time to tame them. They use the same method to spread by rhizome as the loosestrife but some of the hydrangea roots were almost an inch in diameter. Removal was hard and slow but ruthless gardeners can get it done. Despite my lack of muscle and decrepitude, six large hydrangeas are no longer part of the garden. I now have a tidy, empty bed, full of potential.
    Since I don’t have much of an eye for layout I’m doing a lot of previewing to refine my new sun garden plan. Perennials divided and potted in early spring are being shuffled around to see how they look. I’m also ready to divide my iris so that big blank canvas won’t be empty for long.
    My aunt was right, of course. Not every seedling can be saved. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and clear out the remnants of the old to create something new. It’s taken years but I’ve finally become a real gardener, ruthless in pursuit of order, renewal and growth. It’s a hard lesson to learn when you love plants but sometimes it’s the only way forward.
    One note: we’ve seen Japanese beetles on our roses since Wednesday, July 10. They’re a little late this year but now are active and hungry. They will eat almost any plant. Despite the bad winter and cold, wet spring, nothing seems to set back the local hordes of imported insect pests. Suggested control is to hand pick each beetle and drown it in a container of soapy water. Good luck.



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
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