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Organic Gardening

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Confessions of a Relaxed Gardener

Periwinkle vinca bloom New Year's Day

Relaxed, laid-back, lackadaisical… all words I prefer over monickers like lazy to describe my approach to gardening. I always delight in tripping across explanations others come up with that explain (and support) my particular methods to madness. I’ve discovered that lasagna-style, no-till, and permaculture line up quite nicely with the practices I’ve established over the years while building new beds and generally lessening maintenance requirements. Regardless of what some might call my form of gardening, I call it comfortable to do and comforting for me.

I have friends who judiciously tuck their garden in each autumn and dutifully resurrect it each spring. One in particular has a beautifully landscaped piece of property that offers the solace of any number of my favorite parks. My own mother, the queen of blossomy green thumbs, arranges the most beautiful containers each year. Her arrangements look show-perfect all season long as she deadheads, weeds, preens, feeds, and tends to her living sculptures of color. I’ll admit to having intermittently wistful thoughts of following their practices. Then, I remember who and how I am and I return to my happy place of relaxed chaos.

My usual routine is to let my overgrown weeds stay in place all winter long as I sequester indoors; first preserving, canning, and fermenting; then arting, writing, and generally turning inward while Mother Nature has her will with colder playtime. I prefer to watch the big chill from my nest of indoor warmth. As much as I might enjoy looking out at the altered beauty that colder weather can produce, I generally avoid having to actually immerse in it as much as possible.

Since our personal shift to less lawn and more natural area, there have been more opportunities for the weeds and volunteers to establish themselves around our piece of paradise. I am only one body and have to prioritize my time, after all. Weeds are generally very low on my priority list as I work around the garden creating new beds, vignettes, and boosting the morale of each of my intentionally invited babies. Always one to find silver linings, I’ve found a definite side benefit of letting the weeds go is seeing the birds supping on them all winter long. Of course, their dining turns into beautifully fertilized future seeding but...

So, normally, each springtime I release that ball of energy, slowly gathered over the winter, and burst outdoors to pull all the weeds, ready the beds, build anew, and prepare the garden for all the seedlings I’ve started indoors. It’s not unusual for me to put in 12-hour days in my garden come March and April. After cathartically ripping out all the weeds, I add straw mulch on top of my visqueened beds each spring. This cuts down on a lot of the weeding in the vegetable beds while conserving moisture and retaining early spring warmth.

Stumps and Weed Removal

However, this season I actually had a specific goal that I wanted complete by Spring, and I admit to having to undo this problem because of my own relaxed ways. There is a section of my original vegetable garden that I’d let go for several years. During that time, various trees volunteered quite successfully to take up residence. Since trying to reclaim that garden section, our youngest son has chopped away at those trees. The time to remove the stumps still trying to hold onto dear life had come.

I decided reclaiming that piece of garden was well worth my effort as it would return a full third of my original garden back to use. Besides, I’m running out of my stockpile of bricks and other bed-building materials. I like to be practical as well as money-conscious, and in this case reclamation work seemed a smart choice.

Due to delayed colder temperatures, I have gotten a great start and only have three more stumps to go. That’s not necessarily a good thing. I actually believe in the concept of global warming, climate change, or whatever folks choose to call it. The evidence is in my garden. I took the photo of the periwinkle vinca bloom (top of the page) on New Year’s Day 2016. My forsythia, normally like clockwork in its harbinger blooming, shouts out the coming greening of our garden in early spring alone. It had at least one bloom every month of 2015.

Unfortunately, that same temperature shift has made for more virulent growth of poison ivy, a plant that seems to like me as much as I dislike it. This particular kind starts melting my skin within days of exposure if I mis-manage contact. Three times on steroids this past year, the most recent in December, is more than I want to deal with again. I’m still searching for this silver lining. But, I digress.

As I said, I still have three rather large stumps to go, but I’m very happy with the progress that I’ve made and the extra room that I’ll have for all the new-to-me varieties I’ll be trying out from a seed-swap I took part in during December. If you haven’t yet discovered permaculture, hugelkultur, lasagna-building beds, look into it. One of them might just suit your style. I find a lot of fascination in blending science, artistry, and good ol’ physical work in my garden. You might start by checking out my webpages about our little patch of Paradise in Leesburg.

One bed ready in the spring

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe , and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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