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Gardening the Graceful Way

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By Diane Snow Javaid

I love to garden. In my twenties and thirties I gardened with gusto for hours (and burned a lot of calories.) On Saturdays, right after breakfast I would jump into a long gardening to-do list, surface for lunch with my husband (who was gardening in other parts of the yard) and go back outside for a little more sweat and dirt.

Today, I still love to garden, but I have to be smarter about it. My time and strength are slightly limited. That doesn’t mean I have to settle for less in how things look outside my home, however.

I’ve discovered a few secrets. Like benign neglect. While that sounds deadly for plants, it’s really the kindest thing for them. Sometimes I test plant a few specimens to see how they manage without much  fussing.  Stonecrop, a common name for one of a wide range of plants with the botanical identification of sedum, survived quite nicely in dry, sunny spots. There’s a luscious variety of sedum with gloriously varied leaves, colors, blooming times and acceptable soil conditions. Most do well in Zone 6b where I live in Northern Virginia. (Check your zone with the USDA Hardiness Zone Map at http://www.garden.org/zipzone/index.php.) I’ve also intentionally averted my eyes from the proliferation of weeds in heavily mulched areas (just for a few weeks). I’ve used this trick to find a way to reduce the amount of acreage of mulch I need to buy. The weeds gave a good preview of how an area would look when planted with flats of low-maintenance ground covers. The theory is to invest in a mass of good plants to crowd out the bad. (It works, I tell my daughter, the same way as filling your mind with positive or helpful thoughts. Then there’s less room for what you don’t want in there.) This technique brought new ground covers into my garden including cream-edged vinca vines, yellow-leaved creeping Jenny, purple ajuga and fragrant white-flowered sweet woodruff.

Next, I’ve learned to learn from the experts. One of the pleasures of growing older is being more confident in knowing what I can and cannot do. For pruning tall trees or edging and placing truckloads of mulch, I call in the professionals. Then, when I’m chatting with them – and offering cool waters and soft drinks, of course – I ask their opinion on the very best places to buy plants. Who has the lowest price, the highest quality plants and trees, and who offers the best guarantees?  Sometimes my instincts have been confirmed by the experts, and other times the pros have led me to unknown and marvelous sources.

Then remind yourself that it’s okay to be a copycat.  You can garner much knowledge from observing what is thriving in your neighbors’gardens. This is best done on walks. I spy on numerous gardens while I am down by the road walking the dog. See what appears to be doing very well – notice where your friend’s plant is situated, and estimate if the light is similar to the place you have in mind in your own garden. Have faith that whatever you plant will look different in your patch of earth. It will accent or complement what you already have. It’s like wearing a fabulous little black dress. Another woman may wear the same dress, but on a different woman and with unique accessories, it can look custom-made.

And finally, relax. My garden is not perfect. It has a soft complexity with overlapping greenery. This probably drives the nearby British neighbors crazy. Everything is precise and orderly in their garden.  (I am convinced they vacumn any stray leaf that falls on their lawn.) But then again, I have more time for sitting on my garden bench, sipping a cup of tea, and enjoying the fruits of my graceful, relaxed gardening.

Diane Snow Javaid, a former executive with U.S. News & World Report, also writes a personal blog at http://godposts.wordpress.com.

Photo by Diane Snow Javaid

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