Garden Guilt

MAYBE I READ TOO MANY GARDENING BOOKS, but I find I’m plagued by feelings of doing lots of things “wrong” in my initial efforts to turn my long-neglected, weedy, and lately muddy half-acre into a proper garden.

OK, it’s only been a month. I probably shouldn’t be so hard on myself. All I need do is look back at pictures of my previous gardens upstate and in Brooklyn to know that I will eventually get it together, and that one day people will look at this property with admiration instead of pity.

But right now, lacking any more money to throw at the problem (I’ve just spent some $4G for a major clear-out of wisteria, underbrush, and dead trees), I’m doing what I can, by myself, and feeling totally overwhelmed.

Here are some of the shortcuts and “bad things” I’ve been doing, and not doing, that make me feel oh, so guilty:

  • I haven’t started a compost pile. Why not? I can’t decide where to put it. I don’t want to amass a load of decaying plant material in an inconvenient place. I threw some evergreen trimmings way in the back, at the property line, but that is a long way to push a wheelbarrow. Also, it’s lovely and unspoiled back there where the deer live, and I don’t want to use it as a garbage dump. The more convenient spot — central, where nothing else is presently planted — is one of my very few sunny areas, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to devote THAT to compost. The other reason is that much of what I’ve been pulling and trimming are the roots of invasive wisteria and hottuynia, and I just want them OUT of here. Let the Town of East Hampton deal with them. I’ll set up a composting system eventually, but each time I throw away broken fern fronds or coffee grounds, my Jewish guilt rears up.
  • I haven’t tested the soil pH, even though I have a kit. It’s not a priority, though perhaps it should be. It’s probably acid, since rhodies seem to like it. I don’t know much about soil, but this dirt is sandy, light brown in many spots, not black and rich and loamy, which brings me to my next point of guilt:
  • In my haste to get things into the ground (container plants I overzealously bought a month ago or that were given to me as gifts and that have been sitting in their pots too long), I haven’t improved this crummy-looking soil. In my defense, today, at Lowe’s, I bought two 40-lb. bags of ‘well-rotted horse manure,’ but I don’t imagine that will go far.
  • I never ‘double-dig.’ Too much work. I plant $10 plants in $5 holes all the time.
  • I’m thinking of using wood chips for a temporary path, even though ‘the books,’ as well as readers of this blog, have warned me I’ll be sorry, and I’m sure they’re right. But yesterday I made a pilgrimage to the Montauk dump, where it was toxic waste disposal day, with three bins of boat engine oil, alkyd paints, battery fluids, and God knows what else brought up from the basement. I discovered that the Montauk facility has an enormous pile of wood chips free for the taking. And boy, did I feel smug when I realized I had the necessary giant trash bags right in my car, and work gloves, too. I hauled home four huge bags of chips, and I’m using this free bounty for mulch and possibly paths. Even though I know I’ll regret it later when it all turns to mush and I have to rake it away.

Enough brow-beating for the moment. I can’t be the only one with bad garden habits. What do you (as a gardener) feel guilty about?

About cara

I blog (for fun) here at casaCARA, and write (for money) about architecture, interiors, gardens and travel for many national magazines and websites.
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4 Responses to Garden Guilt

  1. Terry Kearns says:

    I’m at the stage that neither garden shows nor garden books can make me feel guilty. They are written for the express purpose of making normal folks feel inadequate. Cash and dirty sweaty work conquers all.

  2. BrooklynGreene says:

    Don’t over cultivate…let the leaves pile up in fall, let it go natural…don’t disturb the soil…and if you put down the mulch, don’t rake it way. Just throw more down on top.

    But frankly, if you really feel the soil needs a lot of improving, get some guy with a truck and teenage son to haul in a really big load of mulch. You can even nose around for a stable that might be willing to let you haul away free manure…why not?

    Then, in fall, spread lots of native seeds, plants that need cold stratification in order to germinate. Sit back and enjoy.

    Don’t know yourself silly over not doing lots of hard, back-breaking work…what do you need THAT for? Do the low key style of gardening.

    Oh, an easy compost pile: get someone to drop off (of pick up yourself) bales of straw. Make a pen out of them to one side of the yard and use that for compostables and all the yard refuse. Just make sure there’s a good mix of green vs ‘brown’ matter in it and stir some air into it once in a while.

    Whatever you do, spend as little money as possible! Don’t get any grand schemes in your head.

  3. cara says:

    I’m all for avoiding back-breaking work and money-spending, not to worry! But a certain amount of both is unavoidable;-)

  4. BrooklynGreene says:

    Money, no, but back-breaking, please don’t over do it…yes, you can try to eliminate it a bit. Think less intervention and work more with what nature wants to do on its own. Now that the clearing out has been done professionally, just try to redirect (if necessary) nature’s energy instead of opposing it. That way, you might take the back-breaking out of it…

    Who needs a broken back anyway?!

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