Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Tales from an Amateur Gardener

The entance to my garden...I wish!
 Carla, Carla, how does your garden grow? “Not so well, if you really must know.”

I love gardening. I mean, I hate gardening. It can be creative and gratifying or frustrating and annoying. Sometimes I wonder why I even bother. Let me explain: As you know, gardening is a lot of work. There’s weeding, churning the soil, mixing in bags of nutrient rich earth, the garden planning, the purchasing, and the actual planting.

For me, the soil prep is the worst. You can really strain your back hacking at the concrete-like clay that we have in our neighbourhood. I know all about it because I recently spent a day chopping away at the garden beds in our backyard with an axe because I couldn’t make headway with a shovel. The good news is that I finished the job and then planted my annuals and some new perennials. I will check daily to see how my garden is doing and make sure to water regularly. This is the satisfying part. Now I can just maintain and enjoy.

Or not...

The problem is that I’ve been through this before, spending days getting the garden ready, only to be sabotaged by elements outside of my control. For instance, last year I planted three beautiful long-stemmed rose bushes. I did everything the instructions told me to do and they were beautiful...for a week or two. Then came the Japanese beetles, those nasty little hard-backed bugs that seem to defy all means of eradication. Health Canada reports that these little monsters are the hardest garden pest to deal with. Not only do they eat leaves and blooms, but grass roots as well. The best way to get rid of them – says my research – is to pick them off the plants one by one when they are drowsy and then drown them in a bucket of water. Not so much fun when there are thousands of them. If you don’t have time to do that you can buy a beetle trap which lures the beetles and then traps them in bags. Unfortunately, these contraptions sold out quickly last year and I missed the boat. I resorted to manually picking the beasties off the plants, but I couldn’t keep up with them. Seems that I was just offering more dining opportunities for their friends.

At least my annuals were flourishing. Guess how long that lasted? Before long, the beetles found my flower containers and from one day to the next my beautiful arrangements, that I’d so meticulously designed and planted, were chewed right down to the stems – every blossom obliterated. I wanted to cry, especially when they devoured the leaves of our beautiful white flowering shrub beside the deck. By now I wasn’t just sad, I was mad! Out came the Raid – my last resort. Normally, I’m environmentally conscious and don’t want to succumb to pesticides, but I had no choice. I couldn’t let these nasty vermin overtake my entire garden... or my psyche. The spray seemed to help, but the shrub itself didn’t take too kindly to the chemical invasion. I think it liked the beetles better.

Another disaster was my summer weeding project a couple of years ago. The weeds – dandelions, clover creeping Charlie and crabgrass – were taking over the entire front yard. This, after having done the recommended lawn maintentance such as adding compost, fertilizing and aerating. Since we are no longer allowed to use chemical weed killers in Toronto (and the organic ones just don’t work) I went after them with a spade and trowel. I spent a few hours every day sitting on the grass digging them out by hand, one weed at a time, which was a great way to connect with neighbours, by the way.

“How’s the weeding going, Carla.”

“Great! I think I’m making progress.”

“Are you beating those weeds, Carla?”

“Yup, I’m definitely winning the weed war.”

“Good for you!”

Thanks for the vote of confidence.

Before I had a chance to fill in the empty spaces with earth and grass seed, a new crop of weeds suddenly appeared after a heavy rainfall. The lawn became worse than before I’d started the painstaking weed-digging task. I’m sorry to say (and I hope I won’t get in trouble for this) I had only one option left: chemicals. You can’t buy chemical weed killers in Toronto, but you can get them in the States and bring them across the border. There is no law that prohibits you from doing so. We use it carefully and sparingly, but it’s the only thing that seems to work.

In the last few years there has been a host of fatalities in my garden: a hydrangea tree, a hydrangea shrub (the all-season plant), a cedar, a fir tree, and Russian sage...to name a few. Perhaps my thumb is more blue than green. Not to be completely dour, I do have a few success stories. My father gave us a stunning peony plant as well as some cedars when we moved in and they are thriving.

My last gripe that I’ll share with you (although I have many more!) is my tulip trouble. Last fall I planted a huge bed of tulip bulbs that I meticulously surrounded with chicken droppings, which is the best squirrel deterrent, says the Toronto Botanical Gardens, where I bought all my spring plantings. Come the spring, I anxiously awaited the fruits of my labour to surface. Low and behold, not one tulip appeared. The squirrels had eaten each and every bulb. The only evidence of my efforts was a few straggly daffodils that the squirrels had rejected.

In sum, I’ve lost my spring plantings, my summer plantings, and my lush green lawn to insects, squirrels and insidious weeds. I’ve wasted hours of time and a lot of money endeavouring to make my garden pretty. What’s the point, I ask myself? Why should I even bother?

But every year is a new year. Guess what I spent most of my Victoria Day weekend doing? Yup - tilling, planting and weeding. I’d like to think that a new season brings new possibilities, a little bit of hope, and finally...a nice garden.