A Case of the Shoulds

From the upstairs window in my studio, I can stare out into the garden. This is a great thing in migration season—I snagged a couple of life birds just by glancing out the window—and a marvelous thing in general terms, but it gets a little rough in winter, when everything has died down and I am mostly looking at dead leaves and a chain link fence.

“Evergreens,” I mutter to myself. “Next year, more evergreens.” Then I jot that down on a note. Florida anise tree would probably be good—it’s native and tough and takes shade and seems to like my garden. Then I think for a minute and spend some time dithering over whether some foxglove would really be that bad—sure, it’s non-native, but it’s so painfully gorgeous and I have a spot—probably that’s a spot—and what if I someday find myself in a mystery novel and need to poison someone’s tea? Eventually I write “FOXGLOVE???” on the note.

Then I underline it.

Then I lose the note.

This is why I have a hard time with New Year’s Resolutions. They seem like such a good idea, and then I forget where I wrote them down. I would resolve to stop losing notes, but it’s like resolving to learn to breathe underwater. Mortal flesh has limits.

I should probably water the containers on the deck more religiously and not succumb to every intriguing heirloom tomato plant at the farmer’s market and really get very serious hiding the chain-link fence. And I got into ferns in a big way last fall, so I should take very careful notes about what likes it in my shady side-yard and plant a lot more of those.

And of course I should finish the patio. It’s been like this for two years, and a week of dedicated digging in the mornings would have it dug down and then I should learn about mortar because the outside edge isn’t going to hold together purely on good intentions.

The garden is full of shoulds. I should learn when various annuals are supposed to actually freeze to death, and then I could write that down on a note and take it around and show it to the annuals, who don’t appear to be aware of this number. (It was 23 degrees last night, and the petunias are trying to flower.) I should cut some of the babies off the sweet flag in the pond and transfer it to my mini-wetland, and I should get into the wetland early this year and take down as much honeysuckle as I can reach.

While we’re on the topic, I should also lose ten pounds and clean out the attic.

The really wonderful thing about gardening is that if I fail to do any of these things, the garden will continue. It may be uglier in winter (or rather, the chain link fence may suddenly be in sharp relief) but it won’t up and die instantly. I may lose a few potted plants or tender vegetables, but the vast majority will continue to grow. In fact, some of them, unless sharply curtailed, will sit on their less aggressive neighbors. (Asters, I am looking in your direction!)

I could go away for a season, and when I came back—after I had finished screaming and clutching my chest over the amount of goosegrass now infesting the beds—the garden would still look more or less the same, which gives it points over other any other large pet you could name. (Just try this with a rhinoceros, or a pet narhwal. You think your HOA is grumpy now…) And the birds would still be there and the bugs would still be there and the frogs would still be frogging it up frog-style in the pond. They don’t really require my input for any of these things.

So at the end of the day, I fall back on my standard New Year’s Resolution….keep doing what I’m doing. Just do it better and harder and with more mulch.

Happy gardening, one and all!

We have gathered all of our resolutions together in one place. Check out Wildlife Garden Resolutions for easy steps you can take to help wildlife in your gardens this year. 

© 2012 – 2015, Ursula Vernon. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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  1. says

    Happy New Year and Happy Gardening Ursula. I always plan about 5 projects of which 2 may be completed and 3 others not on the list take this gardeners time…oh well I have moved past the shoulds to the whatevers…this year I am giving gratitude for whatever may happen and for what may move me in the moment…not sure I will get anything done, but I think I may have more fun!!
    Donna@Gardens Eye View recently posted..Simply The Best-December

  2. Carole says

    Oh, yes, except for the anise I need to do all this and more. At least you got me started in my Resolutions. Happy Gardening in the New Year!

  3. says

    I gave up on notes a long time ago. The land and the creatures that inhabit and eat off of it will remind you of what you need to do. For your chainlink fence, why not try some Carolina Jessamine and if you have some areas of deep shade, some Confederate Star Jasmine. You can even include a couple of clematis (try armandii) and some trumpet vine. That should give you evergreen and blooming color.
    Happy Gardening in 2013!
    Alison Pockat recently posted..Take Stock Now for Spring Changes

  4. says

    It’s a very good thing the garden accepts a period of minimal maintenance. Our year was so busy we barely kept the invasive grasses to a dull roar. Plan ahead and plant good bones and she’ll serve you well for decades to come. Yes, the details may not be as beautiful as you’d like, but it’s likely the neighbors will never know.
    Mark Turner recently posted..Observe and Control the Light

  5. cindy says

    I have been quite encouraged to find after several extended vacations..the garen doesn’t seem to need me at all..except in my case, the Japanese Stiltgrass ;-) I always love your posts!

  6. says

    Since last summer I ripped out my entire garden because it had gotten so overrun with invasives, I’m looking forward this year to more intentional planting, like with an actual plan to welcome more butterflies to my garden in years to come. In the past I’ve been very guilty of impulse buying at my local native plant sales and then just tucking those plants in wherever I could. So I’m spending the winter making a plan, and resolving to keep the invasives from my neighbor’s yards under some semblance of control, and looking forward to my brand new butterfly garden this summer.
    Carole Sevilla Brown recently posted..The Ecosystem Gardening Story


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