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Dishin' the dirt from the garden and beyond

Gardens don't have to cost you a lot


The best things in life aren't always free, but the garden generally gives you a lot of free or nearly free return for your investment. I stop and remind myself of that after the sticker shock of realizing I've emptied my pockets of cash at the farmers market buying this year's herbs, tomatoes and hanging pots. Sure, each 60-cent tomato plant is likely to yield plenty of payback, but right now it can feel like it's just cash out the door.


Then I look around at all the stuff in my garden that's free.

Free salad: Let one mustard plant go to seed and you'll have a forest of fresh micro greens for a salad whether you wanted it or not. An arugula plant also self-sowed, so I had the start of several meals worth of tossed salad. I've got four volunteer tomato seedlings going as well, so someday it really will be a free mixed salad.

Free water: Yesterday's downpour more than filled our rain barrel, with the overflow tube still bubbling away this morning.

Free nature show: Herding the tiniest of bunnies around the yard this past week while weeding was prime entertainment, although it had its scary moments. You really needed to be careful where you brought down a hoe for fear you'd find the little fur ball huddled up in the grass you were trying to remove. With its eyes barely open, shooing it out of the way wasn't a simple task.

Free exercise: Uff da.It might not get you your 10,000 steps, but hoeing, weeding, digging and moving around big bags of weeds definitely counts for something.

Free perennials: Some ghost ferns I bought years ago defnitely won't give up the ghost. Same with the bleeding hearts, now bobbing their deep pink blooms in many places I didn't plant them. If a perennial spreads aggressively where you don't want it, pull it for the weed it is.Otherwise, dig it up and use it to fill a gap. Either way, it's free.

What's your garden given back to you this year? All it asks in return is a little attention now and then. Then sit back and do the math on your peas grown from seed. Just don't hurt yourself patting yourself on the back.

Ignored flower garden succumbs to survival of the fittest

To say that I'd let things go is an understatement. I'd let things naturalize.

That's a gardeny way of saying I'd let Mother Nature make a big, fat mess of my garden. For years, I'd been allowing the plants to do their own thing. As a result, any real sense of a garden -- with a graduated border, a sense of flow, varied heights and bloomtimes -- was long gone. What I had instead was a survivial-of-the-fittest faceoff.

Ignoring it's name, the bleeding heart had pushed past its assigned space and muscled out the meadow rue. The moneywort (a groundcover that once provided a delightful contrast to the ornamental grassess) had been invaded by the pussy toes (a groundcover from another faction of the garden), which were in turn invaded by creeping Charlie. Prairie smoke, black-eyed Susans and a pretty but persistent low-blooming clematis were all in a bloodless battle for the focal point of the garden.

Oh, and did I mention weeds? They'd been drawn into the melee, too.

After studying what had once been my garden, I decided I needed to retake my front yard. So that's how I spent my holiday weekend: dividing so I could conquer.

I started with the dozen or so wildly overgrown grasses. One by one, I dug them up, ripped out the weeds, discarded the dead stems, sawed the rootballs into bite-sized chunks and replanted them. Pshew.That's as far as I got. Thankfully, the rain saved me, or I'd be out there, still.

If I squint, I can kinda make out the shape my garden used to take. If I close my eyes, I can see the garden I hope to have: It'll be an orderly place, where plants are gently but firmly encouraged not to stray, where weeds are attacked swifty and without mercy, where humankind (me, specifically) is clearly in control.

I only have to finish what I started.

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