Sunday, October 4, 2009

Drive-By Gardening

I'm not the kind of gardener who gets up and says, "I'm going to garden today!" I don't put on jeans and sensible shoes, sunscreen, gloves and a hat. It's a little different when I'm building a garden, as I was last spring, or adding a fun new detail; that becomes a job to be done.

I don't see my day-to-day gardening as a job, because I try to create gardens that, once finished, can be left alone for a time to decide what they want to be. Then every so often I swoop in, with pruners, scissors or fingernails, and do a little drive-by gardening.

This morning was a perfect example. I noticed my purple plectranthus was looking scraggly...last month's bloom spent, and a second wave trying to come in. So I took to snapping away (plectranthus has brittle, square stems that break easily).

It took a couple of minutes, the plant looks fantastic, and there's a pretty purple pile that might (eventually) get potted up, given away, or taken to the compost bin. The Myrsine even got a tipping too. All this done in my robe, barefoot, with a cup of tea in my hand.

Drive-by gardening is like triage. Whatever needs doing, in the moment, gets done. Or not. Sometimes the need is urgent and timely, like rose pruning, poppy tear-out or bamboo cleanup, but to me a garden is a living, breathing organism that can only be controlled so much, and should be left somewhat to its own devices.

I like drive-by gardening because it lets things grow together in away you just can't duplicate in beds that are constantly cultivated or rearranged. It also fits into the small bits of my day that I feel free to putter. My plants are old friends; even this grouping of pots has been together for several years. By shaping them bit by bit, I've gotten to know who I'm working with. The result is my garden seldom looks perfectly manicured; in fact, if I do my work well, it never looks 'touched' at all.

[Note: This leisurely illusion is best maintained, I have found, when unbeknownst to you, your father has been stopping by to weed every so often!]


  1. Lovely! I agree. About six days a year, I just go nuts in my garden (this weekend was one of those weekends) digging up, re-arranging, planting, etc. The rest of the time, I grab a weed and yank it out on my way to or from the house to go to work or get the mail.

    I had the very same thought about letting the plants settle in and grow together, hanging out for a while. I have this problem spot in my back yard that looked totally different to me after I was gone for a week, and the plants had been in the ground for two years. I looked at it and had an inspiration, hence the massive re-arrangement this weekend!

  2. Wonderful way to put it: a garden needs time to decide what it wants to be.

  3. Love the thought that your plants are old friends. So true. Your storytelling comes from the heart.

  4. I heard Raymond Jungles speak in Pasadena at an APLD landscape design conference a few years ago. A hastily jotted note from his presentation now hangs above my desk: 'let what it wants to be become what it is'--not so different as your intent...

  5. Katie-That sounds like me! A quick burst of gardening fever in spring and another in fall, and I coast in between!

    Susan M-I knew you'd like this!

    Laura M-Thank you, as does yours!

    Susan C-Raymond Jungles was my favorite speaker at that conference; I probably have that same note somewhere too!

  6. I love this post...that is totally how I garden. I love plants, new sprouts, fall color, beautiful blooms, the sights the smells, but do not love gardening....I try to design my own garden so that it requires nothing more than what you described, then a garden is truly a labor of love instead of just labor!