Confessions of an Improper Gardener

Which, by the way, will totally be the name if I ever start a dedicated gardening blog, although I probably won’t since y’all are so patient about the seasonal madness that strikes me.

Today, we did about half the work of building a bed. Kevin very patiently lugged lengths of pine logs from the woodpile to the other side of the yard, and marked out the edge of the border. My island bed is now a peninsula, the Giant Metal Rooster rising from it like a lighthouse.

Most of the area now enclosed lies under a layer of pine needles for most of the year, and doesn’t have anything fighting to grow through, except some straggling grass from the lawn.* It should make the transition to part-shade bed easily enough–I’ve already got Carolina lupine, witch hazel and anise hyssop growing in one area, and I’m planning to anchor part of the border with a nice oakleaf hydrangea,** and then just plant in with my usual mix of reliable performers and "Hey, that looks interesting!" 

No one will ever mistake my garden for a formal garden, that’s for sure, but they say a working ecosystem–even a human-supported one like a garden–does a lot better with a broad mix of species. This is my rationale. Providing ecological diversity. Yeah. That’s it. Has nothing to do with the fact that I am like a gardening magpie. Not at all.

So those bits are fine–I’ll just dump in the dirt and spread the mulch, plant a tight matrix, and deal with whatever grow-through I get on the grass. (I got surprisingly little on the bed that went into the middle of the lawn, probably because the grass is seriously on its last legs.)

However, there’s another bit that is newly enclosed that requires…other measures.

This is the sunny part of the wood edge, and it is home to that scourge of all scourges…Japanese honeysuckle.

Oh, I hate it with a pure, pure hate. If I could eradicate a plant from the Southeast, it would be a coin-toss between that and Japanese stiltgrass. Nasty vile strangling matting beast. Kudzu’s easier to get rid of. Hate, hate, hate. (Don’t say "But it smells so pretty!" To a gardener trying to fight this crap back, it’s like saying "But your mugger was hot!" and then wondering why they’re trying to brain you with a hoe. It can smell pretty in Japan. It can smell pretty in any climate where it doesn’t immediately escape and overrun the world.)

I try to be a good gardener. I don’t use any insecticides, even when we’re hip deep in ticks, because they’re a broad killing stroke and they fall on the just and injust alike. Bugs are the building blocks of the garden, and my time spent photographing all the tiny little hopping, flitting creatures made me appreciate just how vast an array inhabit even my tiny little patch of dirt, and I could not rain death on them merely because I occasionally get bloodsuckers. I use manure for fertilizer, and my tomatoes are completely organic and I get rid of most weeds by grabbing them and yanking. My use of native plants is a near-religious fervor.

I try to be good.

But a honeysuckle infected border requires desperate measures. And so, out comes the big heavy duty Round-up sprayer. I use it very sparingly–only for the honeysuckle and the stiltgrass and the silk trees–I cringe for possible effects on aquatic organisms, I pray for a speedy breakdown, but there is literally no other option for this crap. I have a buddy who’s a plant biologist, did a lot with invasive species, and she granted me gardener’s absolution for it, and showed me which concentration to buy. But I still feel a twinge. 

This twinge lasts right up until I get out there with the sprayer and see the vile stuff twining up saplings that were a live plant last year and are now a dead trellis.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Honeysuckle.

Die, honeysuckle! Die, stray clump of lawn! Die, more honeysuckle! Sorry, clover, I’ve got no quarrel with you, but you should’ve picked better friends. DIE HONEYSUCKLE DIE DIE DIE DIE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD WHY WON’T YOU DIE!?

Then I went inside, peeled off my clothes, and climbed into the tub.

Tomorrow–well, tomorrow we’re probably heading to the beach, but Monday I shall open all the bags of dirt and begin the laborious task of filling in the bed.

And then…we plant.

*Our ultimate goal is the total death of the lawn under flowers, but it’ll take a few years to get there. And let me just say for the record how refreshing it is to live with someone who also believes that lawns are an overpriced, overpamped crop that need to pass out of modern culture as quickly as possible. I can live with someone of differing religions, perhaps even politics, but on the subject of the lawn, I have come to accept that I am a crazed zealot.

**I don’t actually like standard blue hydrangeas. They make me think of little old ladies, and while I am all for little old lady gardeners, I’d rather not be one just yet. My mother, who is not a little old lady by any stretch, loves them, but mostly because they remind her of her grandmother, which just kinda proves my point. Oakleaf hydrangea, however, are white and look almost like a lilac, and the leaves provide "fall interest." I would love to see some fall interest, since my garden just turns brown and skeletal, and then the little birds bop through it, which are interesting in their own right, but not quite the same.

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