Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Limits of Lazy-Faire Gardening

The following essay was prompted by a comment from our son Bram on my earlier piece "Its All in How You Spin It".

It is actually not that easy being a lazy-faire organic gardener. Like its similarly named economic counterpart lazy-faire organic gardening is the policy or attitude of letting things take their own course, without interfering. And like its economic counterpart, “without interfering” doesn’t really mean, “without interfering”. It actually means minimal involvement. In fact if it weren’t for these occasional interventions it wouldn’t be gardening – it would just be sticking plants into the ground. The hard part is knowing when to step in, and how much.

For example, Mars and I place many of our perennials pretty close together. We like that natural look of overflowing abundance and contrasting colors and patterns that result from semi-crowded beds of complementary flowers – “brightly colored patches that are messy but balanced” as the gardens of the Impressionist artist Claude Monet are described by travel writer Rick Steves. (Others might say congested and confusing. I ignore the others.)
Inevitably the daisies and the sunflowers intertwine. The adjacent green shrubbery begins to create a shady roof over the area. The thin branches of the Japanese Spirea push against the green stalks of cardinal plants. And the tansy starts to nudge out the Echinacea. Hands on intervention is called for to restore the amount of space each plant needs in order to breathe. Sixty minutes of clipping and ripping and the balance of nature is restored. For the next month or so the pruned back perennials respect each other’s space. Then normal growth leads to more polite pushing and shoving, and law and order needs to be gently restored again.

And of course there are weeds to be weeded. Some of these encroachers get discovered when I am down and dirty, crawling through the flower stems, looking for candidates to be thinned out. But not all of our flowerbeds are planted wall-to-wall. Other outliers are more obvious, brazenly showing themselves in the strips of soil between their more wanted brethren. This is not the look we are going for. More kneeling, crouching, pulling and tugging and the dirt is returned to its pristine, non-distracting appearance. Such is the mannerly ebb-and-flow of minimal interference plant care.

There is however no place in the world of lazy-faire organic gardening for bindweed.

Bindweed is a vining plant that snakes its way across the ground and over fences, plants, or any other stationary thing in its path. Bindweed can grow four feet or more in length, and has deep, strong roots.
Vigilance and persistence are the two most useful weapons in your arsenal against bindweed. Watch for signs of this vine, and remove it as quickly as possible. The best way to get rid of bindweed is to cut it off at soil level. Don't bother pulling it up; it will just sprout wherever you tore the roots (and you will. It's impossible to get all of the roots out.) organicgardening/

Occasional improvements are part of the vocabulary of the dedicated lazy-fairest“. “Vigilance and persistence” are not. “Bindweed” is not. It plays by its own set of anarchic rules.

We live in Connecticut where the ground is cultivated and the soil healthy. I don’t have any bindweed. (I think the genteel Yankee tradition and local zoning ordinances keep it away.) My daughter-in-law and son live in Santa Fe, New Mexico – arid growing conditions, average rainfall minus ten inches per year. (When they talk about “inches of rain” out there they are referring to the distance between each drop.) They, and many of their friends and neighbors, have bindweed – healthy, vigorous, pernicious, evil bindweed.

Fortunately this accident of geography allows me the luxury of not having to deal with this most vexatious vegetative villain – and of maintaining my hands off horticultural convictions.

If I did however, I would do exactly what they are doing – rout it with Roundup, the poisonous systemic, broad-spectrum uber-herbicide.

needs polite participants –
not bindweed bullies.

1 comment:

Bram said...

The one thing our "lawn" has going for it, it's anything but a monoculture. We got the tall, leafy weeds that look like they want to be trees; the other tall leafy weeds that look something like mint or basil, but aren't (oh, how I had to be talked down from trying a mint lawn); the clover-y weeds; the succulent groundcover that I like but is so fragile and annual; and then the bindweed which, if it wasn't so invasive and would just stay confined, I'd be fine with having.

Years ago, commiserating with a co-worker about the bindweed, she shared a story that was part urban legend, part Alien: " and then they discovered the bindweed inside their house!"