In early May, I set only one new gardening goal for the summer: rescue the flower beds in our front yard. As broad goals often do, this one contained many mini-projects and potential snares:

  • Divide garden into manageable sections
  • Cultivate and amend soil in each section before moving on (Ominous cello music here. Extreme sidetrack danger)
  • Deadhead bloomed-out poppies
  • Weed each section
  • Weave in pansies as colorful accents
  • Plant a few new perennials in bare spots. (Cello music again)
  • Water each bed deeply and regularly
  • Dig narrow trenches at edges of bed, to catch runoff from watering and create pre-dug bulb beds for fall. (Brainstorm of the season)

Last summer I had no coherent plan. This year I remembered a T-shirt that read, “I’m never distracted. I’m totally focused on — Oh, look! There’s a bunny!” That tee is the epigram of impetuous gardeners. Actually, a cute brown rabbit really does visit our backyard and it’s — wait. No sidetracks. Back to the garden plan.

After the oriental poppies lose their fragile petals, those flamboyant garden hogs need cut-downs. I often find more delicate perennials struggling under the sprawl of the poppies’ dead leaves. Deadheading lets the new wave of flowers find sunlight and space to grow.

I also like to spend time with the Canterbury bells (campanula), where new buds will replace the shriveled blooms on the same stem. In past seasons, the pansies showed their cheerful faces until late June, when they quickly went to seed. This year I planted them in shady beds near the apple tree. Whenever I’m on my knees weeding, I pinch off the pansies’ dried blooms and cut back their lanky stems. My little guys are still looking chipper in August.

I’ve also clamped down on my tendency to buy a carload of new perennials in early summer, and this year I bought only three plants. How much time could it take to pop a few delphiniums into a flower bed? It took all afternoon. I had to dig the planting holes and remove the web of shallow roots that the apple tree generates, then loosen and cultivate the clay soil and mix in some compost.

Finally I popped in the delphiniums at the front of the garden. Of course, I knew this small project would be a sidetrack, but I did it so that passersby could enjoy the delphiniums’ blue blaze.

In the past nine years, I’ve dug up swaths of grass in our front yard and filled the new beds with romantic, old-fashioned flowers. I didn’t realize that adding paths would have made it much easier to reach the plants in the middle of the beds. Or that our tall, leafy apple tree would block water from reaching the garden’s edges. Or that the sprinkler would drench our two hanging bird feeders and turn the seeds inside to mildew.

So now I spend more than an hour every few days, deep-watering the flowers by hand. It’s a peaceful task, during which I note bare spots for adding bulbs and transplanting perennials this fall.

My garden plan is still on track. Last weekend I finished up the biggest bed and turned next to the overgrown mess that my husband and I can see from our kitchen windows. I decided to start in the center of that patch, with its untamed roses, potentilla, bellflowers, coreopsis, sweet william and dried-out poppies.

But as I looked for an empty space to kneel, I saw a familiar furry mound, curled up under a flowering Jupiter’s beard. I studied my dozing chief garden staffer, Benjamin BadKitten, and decided not to disturb his nap. Instead I backed away and began to hum. “A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh ... In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight.”


Sydney Craft Rozen wonders if she could plant just a few more delphiniums before she goes back to her plan. Email her atscraftroze@aol.com

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