Down to earth — for the fun of it

(Originally published January 27, 2016 in East Bay RI newspapers. I think I might have missed posting a piece or two — it’s been longer than I thought. Happy New Year/Ground Hog’s Day!)

I read an article last week (a few weeks ago now) by Valerie Easton, avid gardener and Seattle Times columnist, whose New Year’s resolution was to plant less. What a notion! That goes against almost everything I stand for. And yet.

Ms. Easton has a garden that must resemble mine somewhat. She describes plunking spring’s impulse purchases into vacancies that occasionally turn out to be occupied by something that hasn’t emerged from dormancy yet. (Me too.) And she crowds extra plants into containers. (Yes.) I can only imagine her garden as a happy riot of liveliness and abundance but she saw something else: an overcrowded, dissonant, and thirsty hoard. Which also sounds a little — OK, a lot — like my garden.

I can see Easton’s point about not wanting to spend all of her time watering, particularly during any kind of drought. I have tried very hard not to include plants in my garden that demand supplemental water after becoming established. (By “trying hard” I mean that I have allowed some things to die and felt guilty about watering the rest.) But containers are another story. I am willing to water once a day, but never twice, which means following through on what should be an annual resolution to use my smallest containers for toad shelters instead of plants.

I also wish my garden had more textural contrasts between one plant and the next, and at the same time, cohesion in its overall design. One way to achieve that might be to tuck fewer things in the ground this spring. OR to plant as much as my heart desires but to limit my choices. Adding anything to the garden, whether one variety or two dozen, does require more space than is ever available after a previous summer’s rampant growth. I never intend to plant over the top of another and would rather my plants have room to do their thing without being pushed over by more robust neighbors, so edits and eviction notices go out every spring regardless. The trick this year will be to narrow down my wish list. That will be a challenge for sure. You already know I’m on the hunt for at least one plant I have no room for and, just as predicted, my favorite seed catalogs arrived last week.

Select Seeds’ large selection of breadseed poppies (Papaver somniferum, also known as opium poppy by anyone unafraid of criminal investigation) is irresistible. The plants are slim enough to fit in the narrowest slots, so why not buy every color? Seeds are best scattered sometime before you change your mind and the end of winter. They’ll never need a drop of water from the hose, pollinators of all stripes visit the flowers, and a little later on, goldfinch will perch and peck away at the pretty seedpods.

Second generation Nicotiana ‘Tinkerbell’ gone green (love!)

I can’t deny myself the pleasure of sweet peas, which take up very little room on my fence and are kaput by mid-July anyway. Flowering tobacco (Nicotiana) on the other hand, go and go, even in partial shade, until the hardest frost flips their switch (which finally occurred a few days ago), and their large basal leaves offer a contrast with almost every other plant in my garden. Although they’re champion self-sowers, cross-pollination varies their progeny — to the better and muddier, both. Freshening the gene pool with new packets of first generation favorites like ‘Cranberry Isles’ and ‘Lime Green’ really shouldn’t count against my list.

I feel my resolve to keep it simple and plant less weakening already. I think what Ms. Easton and I are really recommending is a resolution to have the most fun ever in your 2016 garden. If dragging the hose around the deck and/or garden on a hot day is your idea of hell on earth, plan accordingly. If you think there’s nothing better than watching goldfinch peel poppy seedpods like bananas, scatter those seeds ASAP. If you like to tweak your garden’s design as it grows, plan to edit constantly and plant anything that makes your fingers curl. Whatever a blissed out growing season looks like to you, it’s in your power to make it so, starting now.

I haven’t scattered those seeds yet. Any day now… How about you? Do you have any resolutions in the works for more garden fun?

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