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Green Acre #330: A 10-Point Garden Manifesto

LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” had to leave town for 10 days . . . and spring in Washington DC sprang anyway, including the magnificent Kwanzan cherry tree in the backyard. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

By Stephanie Cavanaugh

IT WAS LIKE the scene in The Wizard of Oz when the house falls into Oz and the door opens into magical Technicolor, though I didn’t know this happened until I was 12 or so. My dad thought color TV a flash in the pan. I used to think it was a black-and-white movie.

The Prince and I left Washington DC at the beginning of April for a little emergency trip to Florida. Spring was just beginning, heralded by the cherry trees around the Tidal Basin, which were at their peak. But the hundred-year-old elms that line our street were just showing a whisper of green, the red-leaf maple’s buds were near to bursting, the Kwanzan cherry in the backyard had but a hint of pink buds, and the tulips were barely pushing their heads up amid the ground cover. 

In short, it was dirt with some colorful bits.

Figuring the tropical plants in the greenhouse would shrivel and die—and thinking it unreasonable to ask someone to water them—I held my breath and moved them to the garden (technically, My Prince did this, schlepping pot after pot down two flights. But the older we get the more we work in discordant concert, like a single grumpy individual, so I get full credit for thinking of it) despite its being weeks from the last frost date—April 21—which we’ve only just reached. 

Each morning I read the pathetic Palm Beach Post, checking the weather (at least that coverage was comprehensive), hoping it would stay cool but not too cool and rain some at home, so all would be safe, though our wonderful neighbor Anouk had promised to be on call in case of emergency. 

Now, upon our return 10 days later, the city is carpeted with blossoms, and our gardens, both front and rear, are bursting with flowers and greenery. The vinca in the front patch, which I don’t even remember planting (not unusual), is running rampant, nearly strangling the hydrangeas and peonies. The trees are out full. . . .  Oh, that cherry is spectacular. 

Oh, all sorts of stuffs are coming up, and I haven’t a clue what too many of them are. Which leads me to a manifesto for dealing with the gardens this year. 

  1. I will keep a written record of where everything is and how it performs, so I can avoid mistakes I make year after year. And. If I happen to buy another plant this year, which I should not do—just where am I going to put my 10 caladiums, 12 begonias and a lilac tree, I ask you—I will save the labels or write down what they are and where I stuck them. 
  2. I will never plant another invasive species; this is if I happen to buy another plant, which I really DO NOT NEED.  No more wisteria and trumpet vine. I give myself permission to admire them in someone else’s yard while chuckling and slapping myself on the back for my restraint.
  3. I will certainly not plant another tropical—except for an orange, which I really really want. 
  4. I will absolutely read every plant tag thoroughly before buying  (which I’m not doing) and not fall for another that requires more than 30 minutes of direct sun, a 20-foot Bird of Paradise (even if it blooms), or an elephant-ear bulb the size of a basketball.
  5. I will always wear gloves when messing in the dirt. I will invest in gauntlets, gloves that go halfway up my forearms, no matter how ugly. And boy are they ugly. Why, I wonder.  No more tangling with thorny roses with my bare fists, arms raw and bleeding after a fight with lethal canes. 
  6. Before pulling on said gloves, which will fit, by the way, I will scrape my nails over a bar of soap so the dirt will easily dislodge and I don’t look as if I’ve spent a lifetime digging in a coal chute. 
  7. I will not invest in a single packet of seeds this (or any) year. I will buy the damn plants. (Oh, right, not buying plants. How soon we forget.) Has anything ever sprouted from the thousands of seeds I’ve planted over the years? No.  My seed-planting track record is actually behind my lottery winnings, the scratch-off sort. 
  8. I will plant only red geraniums this year. I am always buffaloed into hot pink—that inner 7-year-old, you know—and then regret it. Red geraniums are adult, dammit. I am grown up. 
  9. I will not let my tools out of sight for five minutes. They do not leave the premises even when performing good works for others, I’m talking to you, Prince. 
  10. Post gardening, even if it’s 100 degrees, I will always take a steaming bath in Epsom salts and two Aleve before going to bed, so that I can arise the next morning instead of deciding I’d really rather not, and staying there. 

Let’s just see how this works out.


Rats. Baby just called: “My neighbor just dug up a bucketful of amaryllis bulbs. Do you want them, Mommy?” 

Did I just say “yes”?



10 thoughts on “Green Acre #330: A 10-Point Garden Manifesto

  1. Thanks all!!!! And Nancy — you got it – bye bye gloves, sigh. But such good intentions.

  2. Holly Pollinger says:

    So I got stuck on #1 and am still doing that. But I have not bought a single plant! But I have 5 seed packets! And, finally, if you do buy really nice long gloves why do you need the soap trick? or are “gauntlets” fingerless? In a nutshell, I am trying to make my garden look like yours.

    1. Nancy McKeon says:

      hey, Holly! “gauntlets” have fingers, but i think (knowing Stephanie) at some point they become kinda cumbersome, and then bye-bye gloves, and bye-bye manicure!

  3. monte thompson says:

    Dirt under the nails has embarrassed me for years, But, OH….. the results of my pain, Sublime. I enjoy reading your garden musings and feel the optimism and tragedy.
    But your long, skinny Capitol Hill Garden looks wild and lovely. Love ya lots.

  4. A brilliant list! I’m doing all of it – especially not buying any new plants. Southern California, for all of its many charms is a tough place to garden! Every year, every day – every week – every month – there’s a garden to be attended! No excuses, no let up, no rain. So buy no new plants? Genius. And then if I ever do buy more plants, I’ll do the other nine things! Thanks so much!

  5. jindra cekan says:

    #7 is pure you 🙂

  6. Carol says:

    Oh so you, as I gaze at my seed packets!

  7. Carol says:

    I garden vicariously through you . I plant a few pots for our deck and water them, that is it
    I always plant a big red geranium for my Dad, his favorite (and it just about takes care of itself). Only needs watering if no rain for 10 days! I can identify about 4 plants… in fact a friend sent me a lovely plant when my brother died in January and I had to take a picture of it to our local nursery, it was, duh, a peace lily.. and I was told I absolutely could not put outside in the summer, it was a houseplant only . I love all the beauty in your yard

  8. Maggie Hall says:

    Your yard is straight out of Savannah!

  9. Bonnie Mitchell says:

    Bar of soap trick – need to put that on MY (nonexistent) list! Thanks…

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