Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tip Toe Through the Tiny Garden

I am not the twee type. I do not like cute, and am not given to cooing, even when I say I am (it's just me trying to prove to you that I'm really a very pleasant person, if you dig around enough).

You won't, for instance, find me hanging over a cradle--unless the kid is a little funny looking. Not plug ugly, like a tarantula or vinyl siding. But endearingly offish, like a pug.

But I do like little gardens. Particularly creating them. Maybe it's because I have the attention span of a gnat. If it's small enough, a garden can be planted out on a Saturday, leaving ample time for margaritas.

Maybe because they're manageable. Even when neglected for years they can be easily, quickly revived. And, since the space is so tight, you can afford to be pretty lavish with the plant selection.  

Yesterday, on my way to CVS to inspect the shampoos, I came across a small garden of interest, not that it looks terribly splendid in this photo. But keep in mind that it has only been a matter of days since the last of the snow melted, and many gardens are still bedraggled and muddy.  

Given that, this is a masterpiece: the bumbershoot branches of a petite dogwood shielding the row of azaleas that curve along the back fence; the bushy patch of purple heather spilling onto the walkway in the foreground; the fringe of portulaca trickling through the front railing...

And dividing the shrubs, front and rear, is a wavy patch, which is now a river of bulbs meandering through the garden. Some, like the daffodils, are about to bloom, others are just emerging. Clearly they've been selected to give a fairly lengthy Spring display. 

When the display is over, I imagine, the bulbs might be yanked and replaced with a drift of Summer flowers. Then, come Fall, pansies or ornamental cabbages can supplant the annuals --and cover a new collection of bulbs that will bloom the following Spring.

And so forth. Easy, eh?

One thing I'd get rid of here are the daffodils. Stick with tulips and maybe a few minor bulbs like crocus or grape hyacinth.     

Daffodils, I think, are best reserved for meadows and hillsides -- not for spaces so small that a considerable portion of the growing season is occupied with watching the foliage droop and wither. And they multiply, so each year you have a bigger clump of dying foliage to look at. 

They are also exceedingly difficult to get rid of, particularly when they are imbedded in heavy clay soil. This is why you'll still see them in my garden where they were planted 27 years ago...along with some tulips.

Tulips, though they might bloom another year, are far less reliable, which in this case is a good thing. I have only the slightest twinge of guilt when yanking them out and dropping them into the trash.

When I started the gardens around my house I put in a small fortune's worth of these bulbs, expecting them to return each year along with the daffs. And each year they'd fail. Emerging, if they even bothered to emerge, as single flowerless leaves that resembled drowning souls waving a pathetic last farewell.

I no longer keep the tulips. And I don't pull them and heel them over in a bucket in some inconspicuous spot, as some gardeners recommend. A) Because there are no inconspicuous spots, and B) because they end up rotting anyway, probably from picking up on my irritation. 

And disposing of them allows you to put on a new show each year, planting only parrots say. Or only planting a single splendid hue. I saw a salmon colored row house once, that had a front yard packed with salmon colored tulips. That was about as dazzling a flower sight as I've ever seen. 

And always stage them, so early flowering types might match the house and be followed by blooms from the opposite side of the color wheel in a great clash of color. Just beware of late flowering varieties in a tiny garden, by the time they flower you'll be ready for Summer.

And make sure you mass them, pack them so closely that they look like a brilliant choir.

That might make me coo.

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