Sunday Opinion: Rehab

 You would think agreeing to a knee replacement would be enough for anyone to sign up for, wade through and get up and out of bed in spite of- not so.  A brand new knee joint does not in and of itself constitute a rehabilitated knee.  That titanium gizmo may be a miracle of modern medicine, but it has to settle in, get situated, make friends with the cut and mightily insulted quadriceps muscle-and be persuaded to work. It has to extend the leg in question out straight-all the way out straight.  It has to flex. 90 degrees to climb the stairs-93 degrees to stand up.  106 degrees to tie your shoelaces, 117 to lift things-and 135 degrees to properly take a bath.  As I am fond of taking a tubby, I know what I have to do.  135 degrees of flexion means you can just about do anything you have a mind to.  At this writing, almost four weeks after surgery, I am at 112 degrees. I have a ways to go before I am climbing up into the Sprinter to go to market, and hauling 1 gallon pots around.  Can you hear me sighing?

I have never been all that good at self improvement.  No matter how many times I tell myself I do not need one more book on any garden related topic, new books appear. I buy my books on line now-it is criminally easy to do.  William Stout Books in California is a treasure trove of great books on design and the arts. Just reading about their books on line is great winter entertainment.  Amazon-I should just turn over a paycheck to them at Christmas time.  I buy books-to me, from me.  Powells Books, Timber Press, Hennessey and Ingalls, Potterton Books-my list of places to get in to trouble is long. I am an incorrigible offender.

I cannot walk past a plant that needs water, and direct someone else to take care of it.  Should I go to photograph a client’s summer pots, and they need water, I put the camera down.  If there are plants at my shop flopped over from having gotten too dry, I will drop whatever else I am doing, and water.  If I am really hard pressed for time, I will carry the plant to someone for immediate relief.  Early in our relationship, Buck would watch me come home to dessicated pots.  He would try to reason with me.  With complete and kindly confidence he would assure me that the pots were in no imminent danger: I should put down my things and relax a little before the evening chores.  When I brushed him off,  briefcase in one hand and the hose streaming water in the other, he would roll his eyes, and mutter under his breath.  None of this from him ever rehabilitated me-he gets started on the watering now before I get home.  Peace in our time.

For at least twenty years straight I planted columbines. Who wouldn’t love to have Nora Barlow in their garden?  Aquilegia flabellata alba-gorgeous.  The chartreuse foliaged version whose name I cannot remember-I am sure I have bought at least 50 of them. No matter how many times I told myself to just say no, I kept buying them.  It is very tough to just admit that some living thing just doesn’t like you.  Enroll me in rehab all you want, but I will probably keep buying columbines. 

I am a designer who speaks my mind-sometimes before I know it’s happened. There is no rehabbing this characteristic; I think I have the gene.  I furthermore think I have little interest in being reformed.  But my age is in my favor, whether I like it or not.  Luckily it is much harder to sustain righteous indignation for too long the older one gets. I like to think I am much less rough around the edges. Eleanor Roosevelt once said that that beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art. I find this is a good goal, practicing the art of the two way street. My interest in landscapes-designing them, building them, looking after them, is a trump card I will play against my own propensity to get out of hand, should I need to.  Clients are very much a party to what I do; I treat them like company.

I might be willing to consider the notion that one could become rehabilitated via repeated exposure.  How many times have I stretched out, and closed up that leg to the best of my ability since coming home with this new knee? I am sure the number has to be in the zillions.  My efforts today are a little bit better than yesterday, and lots better than four weeks ago. 

 This experience has reminded me of an exchange I had with my Mom forty years ago.  I woke her up in the middle of the night to tell her I could not go back to college and finish.  Who knows what reason I gave her, or why I found it necessary to initiate conversation at 2am.  She simply said that whether I finished what I had started or not, that decision was not going to make any difference in how she lived her life. This included the fact that she was going back to sleep; if I wanted to stay up all night and mull the thing over-fine.  I recollect an instant attitude rehab.  And I did graduate, by the way.

Gardeners are not just gardeners.  They are motivated, driven-impelled by an instinct to make things grow. I like this about them.  Not being able to negotiate the leap up into the Sprinter come spring will affect no one’s life but mine.  Given this, I have taken ownership of this rehab as if it were the best thing I had ever been given.  As for the columbines, I think I will give them another whirl this spring.

At A Glance: Better Than Knee Deep

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At A Glance 2: Might As Well Snooze

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Indecent Exposure

2007 Dietz (11)I would not hesitate for a second, recommending that new plantings be mulched with 2 to 3 inches of bark.  Mulch conserves moisture in the soil, and it discourages the germination of weeds.  Transplanting is a big shock; a little mulch can be calming. I do not, however, admire decorative mulch, mulch gardens, mulch landscapes, mulch over existing weeds, or mountains of mulch anywhere else beyond a landscape supply yard. Mulch should not be seen or heard from.  Whomever designed the landscape pictured above should get a ticket, three points, and a hefty fine.  Who would cut giant beds, dot in a few maroon-leaved weigela in no discernable pattern, and call it a landscape?  This is a bark garden, just weeks after completion.  In a year’s time, the mulch will be a dirty grey, blown about by rain, bikes and wind.  All the while organisms in the soil are degrading said bark such that any weed seeds in the soil underneath will soon have optimal conditions to germinate and grow.  I shuddered when I saw this, and shuddered again when I realized the clients had no idea the hand that had been dealt to them. 

July23bb 006Suburban landscape/ gardens in front yards- in conspicuous lieu of grass-have become quite popular the last ten years or so.  Occasionally the news tells the tale of neighbors up in arms over a non-conforming suburban yard whose messy assortment of perennials, vegetables and whatever else threatens to disturb the status quo.  The debate about lawn versus garden is immaterial here-this yard is indeed a mess.  What I find even more astonishing are the drifts of bark.  As if bark over bare dirt,weeds, and some scraggly plants could improve the look here.     

birthday 006No kidding, nature abhors a vacuum.  The above pictured bark is a testimonial to the fact that bare or barked dirt stays bare only a short time.  Bark slows down weeds at first, but them helps them grow all the more robustly.  A forest completely destroyed and buried in volcanic ash will reforest, given enough time.  Some landscapes could get that fresh well-tended look if the bark were banished.  It is not as if any removal is required.  A landscape quick-fix?  Plant more of what you already have in your bark beds.

Egren 7-07 (2)It is difficult to get plants to grow under trees; the shade and competition for water can be daunting.  Planting a companion plant at the same time the tree goes in gives everyone involved a chance. I planted rooted cuttings of pachysandra with a weeding fork underneath these English oaks close to ten years ago.  The groundcover has taken over the job of the bark. Though a planting of pachysandra is never going to make your heart pound, it is vastly better looking than the bark. The shape and density of growth is enough.

DSC_0013There are lots of groundcovers for both sun and shade.  This dwarf hosta is a happy combination of bold texture and ground hugging scale.  Not that a groundcover needs to be short, mind you.  Groundcover is anything that covers the ground. For your planting trouble, you get a mass of green that conserves moisture in the soil, and discourages weeds. Does this not sound like a good idea?

Forbes 2005 (25)There is not one thing intrinsically wrong with grass. It is a vigorous groundcover, and  it does need to be cut.  It is doing amazingly well in the shade of these Bradford pears.  It is as much landscape as some people can handle. A grass panel, or sculpture can be strikingly beautiful. Just because a zillion lawn care products exist is no sign you are obliged to use them.  Just cut the grass. Even when my garden is weedy and falling over from neglect, I feel better when the grass is cut.  I like that illusion of order.    

May 27 2009 014Sweet woodriff is a beautiful groundcover, but it must be sited properly.  In too much shade, and in too wet a soil, fungus will prevail in late summer, leaving the garden with brown rotted leaves and bare patches.  I am willing to put up with its problems, as it covers the ground under my hellebores so beautifully.  My hellebores still seed here, though there is not a square inch of bare dirt to be seen. 

2008 Perenic #2 5-12-08 (7)A client with a private garden carved into a hillside asked me to redo the space.  The shrubs had become considerably overgrown, and a tree had died.  The walled garden on the inside has been totally redone.  But I was equally as interested in the street side presentation of the garden. The grass was tough to cut next to the brick wall; the grade was sloppily uneven.  I stripped the grass five feet away from the wall, and added 20 yards of soil to level the ground.

2008 Perenic INSTALL 7-3-08 (2)
Five columnar gingko trees of unusual size and shape were planted around the perimeter of the wall retaining that sunken garden.The branches and leaves are beautiful from the second story terrace.  I barked the trees, yes, but I also planted hydrangeas as groundcover.  Three years later, the view from the street is green. No dirt or bark slides down the hill after a rain.   It will take a few years for the trees to grow out of their hydrangea groundcover enough for that relationship to seem right. The secret garden is truly secret now; nothing in the streetside landscape gives it away. It is a gesture with a sporting chance at a future.