In the Garden:
Middle South
May, 2009
Regional Report

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Tatters of the garden, such as these dried allium blooms, decorated Margot Rochester's Christmas tree, as well as her winter landscape.

Gardening Should Always Be a Labor of Love

Simply put, my garden is a wreck. Recent rains have toppled the tall snapdragons in the cottage garden around the front porch, while pansies, bedraggled from last week's heat wave, still wait to be replaced by warm-season annuals. Around back, weeds have laid claim to the gravel walks of the formal parterre, as opportunistic as determined pioneers.

Plans to rake the woodland garden, clearing winter's litter of sweet gum balls and small branches, slips further and further down the to-do list as other, more pressing chores, demand attention. Even now -- mulch is yet to be ordered, containers remain unplanted, and tomatoes are not staked.

As I take stock, looking at a garden that is more disheveled than delightful, I'm reminded of my dear friend Margot Rochester, who passed away in October after a brief struggle with pancreatic cancer.

In her second book, Down to Earth: Practical Thoughts for Passionate Gardeners, Margot wrote with humor, "Some folks have an overdeveloped sense of tidiness and should get over it."

Unfussy by nature, Margot adored plants that mixed and mingled in her South Carolina landscape. In the garden, her zest for life was expressed with bold colors, tall growers, and too much of almost everything.

For Margot, winter was as engaging as spring. Dried flowers and seed heads decorated her Christmas tree, as well as her cool-season landscape. "Tatters can be interesting," she said with certainty. "Best of all they remind a gardener that a garden is hovering under the soil."

Even before it was common practice, Margot honed earth-kind and gardener-friendly methods. She was an inveterate mulcher, using coastal Bermuda hay to eliminate weeding, reduce irrigation, and enrich her sandy soil. She devoted one corner of her backyard to nurturing wildlife, filling it with sassafras, elderberry, serviceberry, possumhaw, red cedar, and other natives, and reserved the opposite corner as a service area to propagate plants for her immense circle of friends.

As she explains in Down to Earth, "Whatever goal you set, the garden should make you happy. Why else would you go to the trouble and expense?" And, "The moral of the story is this: never work harder than absolutely necessary, especially in the garden. Gardening should always be a labor of love."

This spring, I've resolved to enjoy my garden more faithfully and share it more gratefully. I won't fret over having everything "just so" before I plan a luncheon, or even before I invite friends, spur of the moment, to relax at the close of the day with a glass of "fortification" on the back porch.

I won't worry about what might be whispered about the weeds, or the bald spot in the grass, or the sooty mold on the gardenias. I won't tell about the shrub that was moved three times before it died or the tree that fell in the ice storm. And I certainly won't point out hostas that are victim to voles and slugs.

I'll ignore the black spot and smile as I show off a perfectly formed rosebud, step over the dead daphne to reach for the fragrant blooms of less finicky plants, and wave away concern for withering zinnias as I exclaim over colorful butterflies.

From here on out, I'm following Margot's example. I'm abandoning guilt and embracing a garden that's more about pleasure, and less about perfection.


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