Friday, October 18, 2013

The Secret Garden

Read Marie Lydon's column in the October 18, 2013 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

I generally like to confine my amateur gardening to the backyard, assuming that no one can see me there to judge the fruits of my labor. I know this isn’t really true because, in spite of a stockade fence, any of the neighbors can look from upstairs windows and see my disorganized way of doing things: smelling the lilacs, taking pictures of the butterflies, pouncing on every dandelion I see to wrestle it out, and smelling the lilies of the valley that don’t quite smell like my favorite colognes of yesteryear.

It takes forever, and many trips to the shed  to get all of the tools I need for this endeavor:  the gloves, the digger, the wonderful gizmo for getting out the dandelions, Whoops, there are leaves, back for the rake; now there is dirt on the patio, have to get the broom and the dustpan, and on it goes, the Norwood Mustang sit- upon, bought for sitting on hard benches at school sporting events many years ago and now my best friend as I scoot along the rough surfaces of my yard. What began as a shade garden looks good in the spring, gradually turns sour during the summer, and is really burned out by this time of the year.

I never knew the difference between a perennial and an annual until we finally took down our swing set, cemented basketball hoop and make believe baseball mound and started growing grass when our kids were in high school.  Since we had a fence and neighboring shade trees, I thought it would be fun to plant flowers and came across a library book, “Perennial All-Stars” by Jeff Cox.   I eventually bought the book and that was the beginning of my amateur gardening.  Our son had a summer job at the long gone Home Quarters so every time I dropped him off for work,  I bought the perennials that were the specials of the week, especially the “All-Star” Perennials for Shade and looked for the suggested “co-stars.”  Some things worked out and others didn’t.  I figured it was survival of the fittest.  I also went to the gardening program at the Norfolk County Agriculture School every fall and spring. As often as they sent me the catalogs, I went.   The teacher was a great lecturer and three things he said that I took to heart were: You can never lime too often, as it doesn’t hurt you or your garden; the best soil for your garden is the compost you get from your local town landfill; and there’s no real need to mulch.  When I look at certain plants now, I can remember when and where I got them.  Some were cuttings or throwaways from friends, which were especially nice, some were gifts, and some I bought myself.  It was always a challenge but a fun challenge.

So much for the backyard.  I try not to work in the front except when it is dark or when most people are at work or when the hedge needs clipping.  I hate for people to see me there for hours and hours without much to show for it.  I love being outside and it’s a good excuse, maybe because I work indoors all week.  Today, one of those perfect fall days, I moved to the front, again with my six-step approach to getting all my supplies out there, to trim the hedge.  I actually enjoy doing this because I have an electric clipper and you can stand up and do it, which is nice at my age.  I have no idea what I’m doing but people must feel badly for me because as they’re walking by, they tell I’m doing a good job!  It’s very encouraging, really.  Someone today asked if I do this once a year.  Are you kidding me?  Whether it needs it or not, I do it at least every six weeks.  People I know, or don’t (they go too fast and I’m so intent on my work and trying not to maim myself) go by and honk (mostly in black trucks).   Strangers say nice things about my work. Families pushing baby carriages, neighbors walking their pets, people I don’t usually see because I don’t have a pet to walk, am usually at work or in the back yard, comment politely or say “Hello.”

Working at the library, besides providing me with lots of beautiful gardening books, has been great for helping me identify weeds in the garden.  As a reference librarian, I’m always amazed that people can identify weeds in books, not by going to the index and looking them up, but by looking at pictures. We have some very good gardeners working at our library so I occasionally bring in things I find in my garden, although they are usually DOA by the time they get there, in order to know if they are real plants or weeds.  This summer, a prominent item in my garden was a tall, ivy-leafed clump with little white flowers.  I’d never seen it before so I brought it in to be scrutinized by a couple of my co-workers.  They decided it was an unfamiliar weed and several days later, one of them said she had seen it growing along the highway somewhere.  A week later, another one emailed that it was being discussed on Facebook and there were references to it, with a picture, on the Audubon Society website.  Mystery solved!  It’s bad, bad, bad, so another thing I had to do every day, besides watering, was to check to be sure that it hadn’t come back.  Another mystery was solved when a friend and I were walking and left a note on a door about a plant in the yard that we really admired but couldn’t identify.  A few days later, this wonderful lady came through the doors of the library with a cutting of the plant and the name of it.  I asked how she knew where we were and she said she had seen us walking by and knew we worked at the library.

One of the nicest things about gardening (or yard work, as we called it back home) is that, like ironing, you can think about just about anything while you are doing it. That’s how I came to write this article—I started writing it in my head as I was cleaning up the backyard from this past summer and figured I had better come in and type it up because my interest in gardening is definitely something I owe to the library. Check out section 635.9 for perennials and annuals, 635.932 for perennials, 635.965 for indoor gardening and 712.6 for landscape gardening. The library also has a database, the Gardening Landscape & Horticulture Collection, which you can access from home or in the library by going to the website at  Click on Databases for Research under Quick Links on the right hand side of the website.  Do not forget the wonderful Michael Dirr books about trees and shrubs and the beautiful American Horticulture Society gardening books, some of which have been donated by the Norwood Evening Garden Club and others, for circulation and reference.  Enjoy your outdoor time while you can, whatever you do, but come to the library for our many indoor activities.