Garden Therapy


I HAVEN’T POSTED in a few days because I got home from Spain and was hit with a bad case of ‘What now?’ I walked into my lovely Prospect Heights pied-a-terre, now fully furnished, decorated, and organized, and had nothing much to do. It would be different if I had a job, say, or children at home. Then my next steps would be clear.

I felt empty, lost. My apartment was silent, except for the raindrops and NPR. I usually crash a bit when I come home from a trip, physically and emotionally. This wasn’t a total crash, just a malaise, exacerbated by jet lag, gloomy weather, and a low-grade fever. I watched two seasons of Californication in 3 days.

This morning, though, dawned sunny and cold. I drove out from Brooklyn to my cottage in Springs in the company of a friend, which made the trip fly. I arrived to find my garden, especially the four beds around the front door, covered with brown leaves, looking wintry. Brooklyn’s daffs and forsythia are starting to bloom; here at the end of the Long Island, we’re weeks behind.


One thing that is blooming spectacularly: an old pieris

I made some lunch, procrastinated a bit, and then, for the first time since last fall, got my work clothes and rubber boots on. I went down to the basement and brought up the wheelbarrow, two rakes, a trowel for digging frost-heaved (deer-heaved?) perennials back into place, a pruner, and a grass shears.

Then I spent a couple of hours doing early spring chores: chopping dried four-foot-tall miscanthus (ornamental grass) down to the ground, cutting last season’s shriveled foliage away from salvia, catmint, and other perennials, raking fall leaves off the beds and carting them to the compost heap in the woods. The deer had done a lot of the cutting back for me, saving me the trouble altogether with the liriope (lilyturf).

I took note of casualties. There have been a few in the shrub department, for reasons unknown, including an abelia ‘Little Richard’ I really liked. My memory is another casualty, apparently. I can’t recall what was where and what things are called. For this garden, I haven’t kept obsessive records, though I do have a Zip-loc bag of plant labels which I will consult as the season progresses.

On the bright side, I discovered underneath the shriveled foliage, the tiny green leaves of emerging catmint, ladies mantle, ligularia, and other things the deer find completely unpalatable. A sign that things are happening as they should.

Below: Catmint, ladies mantle, pulmonaria




As I worked, the sun moved across the sky and into the woods. I kept going until it dropped behind  the fence of the neighbors next door and my fingers were frozen. At which point I noticed I had gone from enervated to exhilarated, and had stopped worrying about my ‘next step.’

Garden therapy does it again. I’m happy to be in Springs, happy it’s finally spring.

The Hungry Herds

white-tailed_deer_5924npGOOD MORNING, DEER. Good afternoon, and evening, too. I hear them outside my windows after dark, trolling through my plantings for tasty buds.

A deer fence is back near the top of my list. The hungry herds have left me few flowers. They’ve eaten stuff they don’t touch upstate, including rugosa roses, astilbes, and evening primroses.

They’ve even munched the sweet potato vine trailing from my containers, leaving just sticks.The dappled willow I hopefully tried didn’t last, and I see my abelia is bare of buds and probably won’t flower this season like it did last. I had about four blooms this spring on the mature rhodies that were here long before I arrived in May ’09.

Please don’t tell me to use Irish Spring soap. I’d need a gross of it to fend them off.

Mere greenery is hardly the point of ornamental gardening. Still, I have a love/hate relationship with deer. They frustrate my gardening efforts, and I worry about Lyme-carrying deer ticks (I’ve only found one on myself this season, but who knows what goes on behind my back).

But I respect their wiliness and survival tactics. I’ve been reading Dominique Browning’s wonderful dropout memoir, Slow Love (and following her related blog with great pleasure). In the book, she reveals how nature and gardening — and baking muffins, and other simple country pleasures — have been a tonic for her following the stunning loss of her job as editor of House & Garden magazine. In one passage, she sees some mollusks on a rock, and briefly considers moving them out of the sun so they won’t dry out; then she realizes they “know what they’re doing.”

I figure the deer know what they’re doing, too. Lately, in this unusually dry weather, I’ve worried about their finding enough water in these streamless, pondless woods, and it crossed my mind — fleetingly — to put out bowls of water. But that would be ridiculous. I’m doing enough by providing midnight snacks.

So I’m re-thinking the deer fence question, and may go for it after my deck and bathroom are done (I’ve been gathering estimates on those and will soon make a decision).

Meanwhile, the deer remain my frenemies, and I don’t even dream of planting hydrangeas.