FELDER RUSHING: Gardens should work for us, not make us work | lifestyle


That heat is one thing, but I stopped searching my thesaurus for synonyms for excruciating moisture when I got “fat enough to lick” right after “choking”. Between the two, with all of our gardening rewards and fame, gardening is no fun when just pulling a hose wringing buckets of sweat and standing still invites hordes of mosquitos.

There is no good way out of this, so we need simple workarounds. Especially us elderly gardeners who remind us that we were tossed and turned under an attic fan that drew in appealing clouds of gardenia all night long.

One way to slip away from misery is to dig, plant, water, weed, and other necessary chores early in the morning. This gives us the freedom to enjoy the fruits of our labor from a porch swing in the evening, hoping for a breeze as the cicadas begin to serenade each other.

I, I cheat. For the past dozen summers, I’ve managed to hide and hide in a little terraced herb garden in northern England where people freak out when it gets hot; A newspaper warned that an 85 degree heat wave was a “killer heat wave”.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy spending time in my crowded Jackson Cottage Garden; But because I’m on the road for work, often for weeks and months, I’ve spent two decades redesigning and planting my landscape in such a way that it almost does itself. And to be honest, I’m not a really caring gardener.

So when it comes to making plants grow well with less care, there are few things that all ancient gardeners will agree on. Sun or shade are a big consideration, but long-term success with even the longest-lived garden plants depends mainly on two factors: first, choosing sturdy, well-adapted plants, and planting so that their roots grow deep and strong so they can get the top growth support with little or no additional help.

A big ego-deflating step for me was to replace popular, seductive, but borderline beauties with more durable plants. While I love finding and trying new things, lately I’ve started to hold back and watch how untested newbies fare in better gardeners’ gardens before I add them to my own.

Now the backbone plants of my garden are the dependable supports we see in low-maintenance older neighborhoods, rural or cottage gardens, and even in cemeteries. Some are old-fashioned by opinionated fashionistas, others may be a little invasive or have relatively minor pest problems. But due to nostalgia and perseverance, many well-tried older plants are making their comeback in southern gardens.

Incidentally, I have an updated list of these persistent heat and drought tolerant summer cast members; Write me an email through my blog and I will send it to you.

But no matter how reliable a plant may be, it will be doomed if the soil is over-prepared, over-watered and over-fertilized; all three cause root problems that weaken even very robust plants that don’t need it. That’s why I’ve made it a habit for decades to dig wide holes or flower beds and add little organic material to the native dirt so the roots get used to growing into what’s outside the holes. Then I cover the soil with leaf or bark mulch to keep it cool and moist, and water deeply, but not often. This upfront preparation and “lean and mean” maintenance actually works better than constant coddling.

I think gardens should work for us and not make us work for them. Would you like to join me?

FELDER RUSHING is a writer, columnist from Mississippi and host of “Gestalt Gardener” on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to [email protected].