I confess, I have a dark side. I’m ruthless when I have to be. I don’t like admitting this even if it is a character trait that’s admired in some quarters — sport, business, shopping, but in the garden? Sadly, yes. To be a successful gardener, it’s essential to be ruthless. Plants will test your patience. They can be fickle, stubborn, uncooperative, and downright frustrating.
Give some an inch and they’ll take over your garden; give others their own premium location and they sulk. It’s too bad plants aren’t sentient enough to realize that if they don’t grow as expected in my garden, there are severe penalties — and I’m a tough love judge, a three strikes and you’re out judge, a hanging judge. In fact, I make Judge Judy look like Mother Theresa on valium.
Oh yes, my garden may look peaceful and serene, a botanical sanctuary, but it didn’t get that way by me being a sentimental wuss. Insensitivity goes a long way in garden care. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of opportunity for rehabilitation, and the three strikes and you’re out policy is relaxed if it isn’t three consecutive strikes, which a few plants appear to have figured out. They play dead for a couple of years then give a gold medal performance. I praise them, I reward them with an extra layer of compost, and then the following year they look like they fell off the final sale rack outside the grocery store. Then I have to start over and give them another chance.
I have to accept it’s not always the fault of the plant. It might have had a lousy childhood in a greenhouse, or it could be in the wrong type of soil or in the wrong location. The soil in this area is generally alkaline, but up in cottage country or in boggy areas it can be more acidic. Stick a Rhododendron or azalea in soil that’s too alkaline and it will refuse to grow well. If a plant likes sandy soil, it won’t appreciate clay for its roots. Some like moist soil, others like it dry.
It might be too hot, too dry, too wet, too windy, too sunny, or too shady for a particular plant’s liking. There are variations between species. For instance, blue or green hosta prefer more shade while the gold or yellow types like more sun. This is why, even though I may be ruthless, I take all these factors into consideration before sentencing.
I often move plants around, sometimes two or three times until I find a spot the plant is happy with, but then what happens? It grows like it’s on a mission to replace the lawn and I have to dig three quarters of the plant out before there’s no room for anything else in the garden. For instance, I have clumps of daylilies that I seem to recall adoring, but they’ve begun to annoy me and will have to be dug and divided, or even disposed of.
If, after I’ve done everything possible to provide perfect conditions for a plant and it still doesn’t bloom or show any sign of enthusiasm, I’ll stick it in a corner out of the way and ignore it for a while. Finally, I’ll offer it to someone else to see if they can grow it, otherwise it’s onto the compost heap. Then what happens? It lies there gasping in the sun for half a day and suddenly pops out a single, amazing flower, as though to mock me. And what do I do? I hastily stick it in a pot and try to coax it back to life. Yes, I’m ruthless when it comes to gardening.