21st Century Gardening

Wednesday, May 2, 2012
What’s different? Lifestyle changes – cocooning. Many people have always loved staying home, spending time with friends and family, and gardening is part of that. But after 9/11 a national trend in that direction developed, reflected in a boom in the home remodeling and landscape businesses. Used to be, a complicated garden was not always considered an asset in selling a home, but decks, patios, fireplaces, pools, even spas in the backyard and a much wider variety of plant materials are appealing and valuable nowadays. Especially since Katrina, it seems to me more people are doing more with the space nearest them. And that people looking forward to retirement are planning home and garden redos, or designing their intimate dream home instead of selling out and taking to the road, as some had predicted the baby boomers would do. We celebrate and decorate our garden space these days. But we also have busy days and nights, we are impatient people in a chaotic world, so why do so many go to a noisy building to work out? Get out of the gym and into the garden! Attitude changes as more proof of climate change comes into our awareness, such as the new USDA zone map. Like it or not, blame whoever you want, things are changing, including food safety and habitat issues. We want to grow more of our own food and want more hummingbirds and butterflies in our gardens. But west Nile and fire ants are still big problems, so our approach must deal with them responsibly. Garden style changes – the results of these lifestyle and attitude shifts mean that we are all employing new ways to meet old challenges including: Fireplaces, pits, and pools Containers, bales, and hanging pots Drip irrigation, reservoirs, open the cistern Extremes of garden enjoyment, such as preplanted pots, makes it easier to garden if we have no time or desire to till, rake, mulch or compost. We desire to garden with kids, pets, critters health and safety in mind, and to develop a greater understanding of microclimate and our ability to control it. All these factors combine to create gardens where personal expression is possible and desirable, where time can stand still for at least awhile, and where we can ponder our fate and count our blessings in the meantime. What stays the same has been our propensity to make the same mistakes over and again. Here’s my list of the Ten Biggest Mistakes made by beginning gardeners (and some not-so-beginning gardeners!) 1. They get exuberant and plant too much of one thing, especially vegetables and annual flowerbeds, then get overwhelmed and give it up to weeds. Oddly enough, 2. They think too small, especially when it comes to water features, focal point plants, and beds around trees, flagpoles and mailboxes. 3. They don’t pay any attention to the mature size of the trees they plant, especially crepe myrtles, leading them to 4. Prune at random, which can not only ruin the looks of a tree but its health, too. 5. They treat a $1000 lawn like it’s Astroturf. 6. They overwater container plants and let water sit in saucers underneath them, then wonder why they get brown tips. Also, strangely, 7. They underwater newly planted landscapes and are miserly about watering established evergreens, probably because they don’t wilt. 8. They dig holes in heavy clay soil and attempt to grow plants in it that cannot possibly survive without good drainage. 9. They get spring fever and plant what’s in bloom, leading them to miss three other seasons of joy. This is a related to 10. Gorgeous plant fever, where they buy plants not knowing where or if they can actually grow them. This mistake does sometimes lead to great garden surprises. What really hasn’t changed is the pleasure we take in a vase full of flowers we grew, or the taste of a tomato grown at home. And the need for our personal style to be reflected in our garden. It’s the one place you can be a fuss budget or a que sera sera type and no one will try to rein you in. It’s still essential to pass the love of this earth to your children and grandchildren, and to allow yourself to sit and enjoy it all once in awhile. As the second decade of the 21st century rolls along, it’s time to rethink some of our garden practices as we move into the height of the 2012 season.
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