We’ve been talking about how to prevent pests on roses and flowers, and how to treat them organically if you do end up with problems. Today I want to talk about one of the biggest things that keeps us from gardening organically – our expectations and attachments to a specific kind of garden or plant.
Expectations are a funny thing – there is so much incredible beauty in nature and the plant world, but sometimes our desire for a certain kind of garden or plant makes the flaws we percieve in our gardens really stand out.
Take lawns, for example. I have a wonderful gardening friend who lusts after a perfect, flat, weed-free chemlawn. The problem with that? She has a casual rolling lawn with apple trees and bird feeders dotted through it, and naturally sloping beds around the edges. All organic.
Her lawn is a lovely natural place where she watches the birds and wildlife, and attempts to flatten it out and remove every weed would make it feel out of step with the rest of her gentle country garden. She’d spend more time than she wants to keeping every last weed out organically, and she’d have to get rid of or put concrete under the bird feeders to keep them neat.
She knows in her head that a “perfect” magazine lawn wouldn’t fit her lifestyle or the rest of her garden, but… she still dreams of that lawn, and was shocked at my suggestion that she might embrace what she has, and introduce some tough stepable groundcovers to flower within her lawn area – chamomile, or blue star creeper – and run with the meadow-like theme.
It’s not just perfect lawns we get attached to, either. Many of us are in love with the idea of a certain kind of flower. Maybe you grew up back east and dream of lilacs in spring, but live in such a mild climate that they don’t really thrive. Perhaps you love roses, and want to grow all the latest hybrid teas, but despair of the black spot come August.
Whatever it is for you, coming to terms with what your garden supports and letting go of those things which simply aren’t working will bring you such peace, and will make organic gardening so much easier. A healthy plant that loves where it’s been placed won’t need spraying.
Here’s how to stop chasing the things that aren’t working, and start loving what is:
First, think about what attributes you really want:
Say you grow those giant ruffly Fuchsias that are so prone to Fuchsia Gall Mite in our coastal climate. What is it you really want out of them? Loads of purple and magenta flowers that will spill over in a shady container? Something to attract hummingbirds? There are substitutes for each of those attributes.
Maybe you have a shady woodland garden under the trees, but long for big bodacious blooms like you think of for sunny gardens, and keep planting things that say “full sun to part shade”, hoping that “does well in part shade” will translate into “does well in full shade” once you get them home.
Once you finally give up the sickly roses and move towards the shade section in the nursery, you can find loads of cheerful color, cut flowers and foliage for vases, and fragrance. The shade won’t hold you back from an amazing flower garden (I promise!) – it is the expectation that your shady garden support specific sun-loving plants that leaves you feeling let-down.
Whatever it is you’re doing that’s not working for you, think about your real goals:
Is it a specific color or flower shape? Fragrance? Stems you can cut for a vase? Or something that reminds you of your childhood home?
Perhaps there’s another plant, or couple of plants, that can give you what you want without needing spraying or fussing with.
Next, swap out overbred, disease-prone plants for their sturdy, old-fashioned, or simpler-flowered counterparts.
With roses, we often want a large hybrid tea rose, bred for big gorgeous flowers that we can cut and bring indoors. But breeding for one specific attribute like flower color or size can lead to a plant with a perfect bloom, but without the vigor to withstand everyday stresses.
I love some of the hybrid teas, but it is a fact that they are the most disease-prone high-maintenance roses around.
David Austin roses are a wonderful reblooming alternative, as are many other shrub roses, grandifloras, and floribundas. Tea roses (precursors to HTs) do well in hot climates; hybrid musks are great in semi-shade; Buck Roses are good for cold climates. So are a lot of old roses, though many of them bloom just once. But beautifully. And historically.
If you love roses but hate spraying, try these disease-resistant rose varieties for the coastal Pacific Northwest.
Are you a fan of Fuchsias? Fuchsia thymifolia, with tiny fairy-sized flowers, and Fuchsia magellanica, a large shrub with slender, drooping bells in either magenta with purple, or pale pink (‘Alba’), look a lot different from the giant pom-poms we see in so many Fuchsia hybrids, but they are resistant to the Fuchsia Gall Mite that distorts the leaves of so many hybrids.
Many ruffly Camellia flowers hold moisture and get a bacterial disease when they bloom, which turns their flowers brown. The simple beauty of Camellias that only have a single row of petals on their flower is enhanced by the fact that the plainer flower doesn’t get diseased. Check out simple-flowered Sasanqua Camellias like ‘Yuletide’, or the variety ‘Fairy Blush’ for a flower that won’t turn brown and mushy in the rain.
Maximize your enjoyment of plants that need extra care by placing them where you’ll really enjoy them every day.
Instead of having five in the garden, just put one near your front door where you’ll appreciate it every day, and choose sturdier plants for the rest of the garden.
Start thinking of bugs as being kind of cute, because they kind of are!
Bees buzz cheerfully around your garden, little inchworms and caterpillars curl their bodies around leaves and twigs, and beetles and bugs soldier their way through soil and foliage, sometimes pausing atop a stem for a bit of sunshine.
If our first reaction to bugs is that they are a natural part of the garden and an element to enjoy, then we won’t get so freaked out if they occasionally nibble our plants. I’m not advocating leaving pest problems to fester, but allow for a few nibbles here or there without bringing in the big (spray) guns.
Adjust your definition of beauty to notice what is beautiful now, rather than what you wish was beautiful.
If we’re expecting no weeds, flawless leaves and ginormous blooms, we may miss the beauty of a dandelion flower mingling perfectly with our Hardy Cranesbill, or the pretty serration of an eaten leaf.
Your garden is alive, and just like you and me, it’ll never be perfect. Sure, let’s move plants around and weed and thoughtfully spray if needed, but at the end of the day, just take pleasure in what is, even if that includes some beauty that we might otherwise see as an imperfection.