Do you ever go back to where you grew up and feel totally nostalgic? You can feel like a kid again one minute, then feel like you’ve grown up way too much the next. On one of my recent visits, I was wandering around on my parents’ property in the evening. The sinking light was casting a dreamy glow on the whole landscape and the dragonflies were swooping back and forth. I probably took more than a hundred pictures but few captured what I saw.
There are a few old gardens here and there, some very woodsy now. They are filled with Rhododendrons and a Hydrangea in the background. As I walked around, the scent of several different roses filled the air.
Flowers peeked out from under the weeping cherry. Hardy geraniums, columbine, vinca. The day lilies just setting buds. Hosta plants making their soft, effortless borders. All persistently blooming though long neglected.
The field behind the house was sparsely covered with wild strawberries that I could smell as my feet stirred up the plants. The grasses and clover swayed against the evening sky. A sea of grass with a thick swatch of purple blue vetch.
Something really struck me over those few days. We can spend a lot of time working on our flower beds to make them look perfect. But, perhaps it’s not such a bad thing to have wild spaces. Mowing helps keep the big stuff down and from having your house be swallowed up by the foliage! Even using a weed trimmer in the fall on these spaces can be helpful.
In her 1961 book Carefree Gardening, Jean Hersey stated, ‘The weeds that in other places and other times were our enemies are here and now our friends. We have grown more and more aware of much that we formerly missed-the quiet beauty of a twisted old laurel root kicking its way up out of the earth , the detail in the center of a wild geranium blossom. These things, and a hundred more, are introducing us to a new kind of beauty, to a whole new kind of gardening-gardening the easy way-the carefree way.’
She and her husband had retired to many acres in rural Connecticut after raising a family in a New York city suburb. Their previous home made use of every inch of the small lot, everything tended and in it’s place. With big plans of moving to the country and conquering the meadows, streams and hillsides, they soon realized how wonderful the property was already. So with a little attention and renovation here and there, they kept it much more natural. A more relaxed approach using basic designs, hardy plants and simple techniques, keeping chores to a minimum. A gardeners dream right? She does have a revised version of her book out now and it’s definitely worth a look.
Many of you may have heard of Ruth Stout and her book Gardening Without Work. Another great read in Weedless Gardening by Lee Reich. Both authors advocate heavy use of mulch. This practically eliminates weeds and conserves moisture while building soil.
Now apply this theory to your own property. You may think that I’m talking crazy. If you know me, you know that I love a nice edged, freshly weeded flower garden. And yes, people do hire me to do this for them. I’m not knocking it! Sure, have some well tended flower beds near the house and by your entrance but have some areas that can be wild. Hosta borders interspersed with day lilies and ferns. A hedgerow of flowering shrubs. Think continual flowering with azaleas, lilacs, quince and rugosa roses. Plant a wildflower meadow. Establish a stand of daffodils followed by lupine then daisies.
I noticed in my own yard a clump of traditional orange day lilies with other wild flowers. Blooming as proudly as any cultivated perennial. My husband had planted the roses and lilies, the wildflowers (weeds!) came up on their own. I’m really happy to let this go on. Just mow by them once a week or so and all is well!
I wanted to talk about the beauty of untended or forgotten spaces this week because summer goes by so fast and we often feel that we are never doing enough in our gardens. There’s always some dead heading to be done or a patch of weeds to deal with. Consider some wild spaces of your own. You might just be struck by the raw, untamed appeal of these wild gardens!