Gardening tastes - was Amaryllis

Jim McKenney
Sat, 14 Aug 2004 12:03:56 PDT
At 09:56 AM 8/14/2004 -0700, Jane McGary wrote:
>That presumably is what we know in the West as "barkdust and junipers."

Jane, you must live in a much better neighborhood. Barkdust and junipers,
while hardly imaginative, at least sounds tidy (as in tidly boring). What I
had in  mind when I said "white trash gardening" was a particularly
repellent combination of pass-along plants and lack of design. In contrast,
barkdust and junipers sounds positively refined. 

>Packing a lot of blazing color into a small 
>space is more problematic, though one sees it done, particularly in a 
>certain new style of urban gardening that depends heavily on tropicals and 
>other non-permanent plants -- a style that makes good photos, but to me, it 
>is as unworkable in the long term as a lot of other high fashion.

I can get a lot of mileage out of that paragraph, especially the part about
the fashionable use of tropicals. I went through my tropical phase about
twenty years ago. In our climate it's a severe temptation: the period from
mid-June to mid-September favors this sort of planting, and if there is not
a killing frost until late October, this sort of planting provides four
months of burgeoning and increasingly colorful growth. Also, there is a
fascinating suite of plants now readily available for this sort of
planting: aroids (Alocasia, Calocasia, Xanthosoma, Caladium), gingers
(Hedychium, Kaempferia, and others ), Canna, tender Pennisetum, cutting
grown "annuals" such as Coleus, Strobilanthes, Angelonia and lots more.
Most of these plants are relatively pest free, and they grow like weeds in
our climate. 

With the first hard freeze, it's all over. You're left with a big mess to
clean up. For the rest of the fall and winter, you get to look at more or
less roughly churned clods of dirt. You will also have the opportunity to
fret all winter over the mortal remains of the ones you've brought in to
"save" for the next year. 

I saw a local municipal planting recently which used a few dozen Alocasia.
If the Alocasia are allowed to freeze at the end of the season, that's one
sort of expense. If they are taken up and kept growing under glass, that's
another sort of expense. Given the cost of labor, it's probably cheaper in
the long run to let them freeze and replace them yearly.  
What's wrong with this picture?

Here, I think, I'm touching on one of the great divides in the world of
local gardening. Lady Murasaki has two of her characters take sides in the
age-old debate about which garden is the better, the garden in spring or
the garden in the fall. In some climates and among some gardeners, that
debate may still have relevance. But in my world, gardeners divide neatly
into two groups based on the season when they garden.  For some people, a
garden is a summer thing. For others, it's a September to May thing. 

The summer gardener in his/her most elemental form has corn, tomatoes and
some annuals. These are the people who, as they become aware of what's out
there, are apt to grow into tropical bedding. Speaking broadly, this tends
to be a less sophisticated sort of gardening. The individual plants are
what it's all about. You stand around with  your buddies and gawk at
elephant ears the size of sofa cushions. If you're lucky, you pick a fresh
tomato and you all sit down to tomato/onion sandwiches and shoot the bull
for awhile over some beers. 

On the other hand, there are those of us for whom gardening is a
fall-winter-spring thing. We don't worry about Lady Murasaki's dichotomy:
we include both spring and autumn in our gardening year. We exclude summer.
These are the gardeners who are apt to be fluent in gardeners' Latin, and
whose gardens are likely to show the products of obscure purveyors from
several continents. Janis and Chen Yi are likely to find themselves side by
side, and the gardener complains when the Anemonopsis he planted beside the
Eriogonum dies. The prospect - the dreaded prospect - of having to be
outside in the heat, humidity and mosquitoes of summer prompts this sort of
gardener to get the impatiens planted and things tidied up by early June in
preparation for the annual aestivation. And he does this with the assurance
that his buddies with the tomatoes will be giving them away by the basket
full in a few weeks. It's really quite simple: don't open the door too wide
and let in the heat and humidity, just open it wide enough to accept the
proffered tomatoes and convey sincere thanks and an encouraging (if
disingenuous)  comment or two about the horticultural (even if you really
mean agricultural) prowess of the donor. 

It's my sincere conviction that gardeners are divided on the one hand  into
those who are essentially farmers practicing - with tomatoes or lilies,
it's all the same -  a sort of urban agriculture, and on the other hand the
sort of romantic twits like myself who could not survive August on the
produce of the garden but who can discourse endlessly should the
opportunity arise on axes and borrowed space and the proper culture of
auriculas or the correct placement of pergolas. And that's when they are
not exercising their prime talent: shopping for plants. 

Well, that's enough for starters: let's see where this one goes!

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, where I'm wondering what
malicious muse caused me to type "romantic twit" when I really meant
"romantic wit".  

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