Overgardening and Other Faux Pas


Until this weekend, the side of my house was hard-packed mud, bordered with thin wisps of grass and the occasional dandelion. Every time I used the hose, which dripped like a nose with a cold, the earth around it softened like a wet Kleenex. It was sloppy and messy and drove me wild. So here’s what I did: I bought bags of large pine bark pieces and scattered them artfully over the muddy swath, until it was covered completely. Now I have a chipped bark path that winds around the front of my house, between garden beds, all the way to the back. To this I will add limestone pieces, so my feet don’t slip around.

Sounds great, no? It was all fine, until I was struck by an anxiety that I had “over-gardened.” Over-gardened! Generate a mental image of Joan Rivers (or Melanie Griffith, for that matter). Do you see their overly pouty lips and impossibly taut cheekbones? They overdid it.  Had I too, over-gardened the yard in this same way? Was it too cosmetically beautiful? All night long, I was struck by this dreadful notion that had never once crossed my mind. But surely there must come a point in every gardener’s life when “just one more coneflower” tips the balance and the whole thing is overdone like that extra glass of wine at the backyard barbecue.

The next morning, I stalled confronting the inevitable by wasting time in the back yard, not daring to confirm my worst suspicions. I moved a few ferns, watered a row of cauliflower, pet the cat and hung up some sheets. Then I strolled slowly to the front, noting that indeed, the new layer of pine bark did look nice on the side. It was keeping the weeds down and was soaking up some moisture. So far so good. When I got to the front and looked out over the thriving garden of perennials, the early morning sunshine making resplendent the tender green leaves of my bee balm, I was struck by its immense beauty. I was also met with an overwhelming sense of well-being. I had had a hand in all of this. I had, with my scalpel and my spade, carved this space out. It was no more bloated with good looks, than it was wanting in care.

Man alive, this garden was a looker (botox, or not!)

Relief. So when is “too much”, too much? When do you wave that white flag? Surely everyone has their own limits. For years, I was in love with rusty old enamelware that I would turn into pots for herbs and the like. Then it got junky. So I tossed the lot. Even this year, I have planted many less terracotta pots that I usually do. And my terracotta is so lovely and has a great patina. And yet, they seem cluttered this year. And so I will continue to temper my tastes in consideration of the needs of the garden. I am a slave to its beauty, after all. And I’m okay with that.

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