The Rebel Gardener

My Swiss chalet style home with an upstairs balcony and flower boxes.

Mi Casa Bonita

This year’s mid-season contenders for a one-word description of my garden are weedy, wild and wayward. The winning word must describe the condition of my garden for the year and any garden situations that develop and are possibly ignored between now and New Year’s Eve. It’s no surprise I didn’t pick a word on my top contenders list. The winning word is—unruly. (Last year’s word was neglectful.)

As a newbie relaxed gardener with an unruly garden, I’ve found I don’t mind visiting messy gardens like I did in the past when I was an anal gardener. Self-seeding plants like Aquilegia (Columbine), Delphinium (Larkspur) and Mirabilis jalapa (four o’clocks) are thrilled I’m not interfering with their propagation. The weeds are stunned and duking it out with the perennials. The perennials appear to be winning; in fact they’re taking on the yard.

As a University of Missouri Extension Master Gardener, I’m trained to educate others about safe, effective and sustainable horticultural practices that build healthy gardens, landscapes and communities. Master Gardeners strive to apply what they’ve learned to help others in their communities learn about gardening and environmental stewardship. Our goals are teaching and disseminating information regarding plants, soil, diseases and insects. Generally, our gardens look great. Friends and strangers still compliment my garden. When my altruistic side prevails, I offer a private weed identification class.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or experienced gardener, you can blame the weather for nearly every adverse event in your garden. An tremendous increase in weeds over a period of weeks can be blamed on abundant rain and wind. How often do you hear about garden problems being blamed on operator error?

I recently used the weather to explain a garden hardware malfunction. I told my husband RJ the hose caddy broke because it didn’t rain while we were on vacation and his sister had to water daily, which put undue stress on the cheap, plastic piece of caca. I told him we needed a higher quality hose caddy and he replied, “Then don’t have me buy one at Walmart.”

When there’s a drought I can blame it for low yields on my heirloom tomatoes—not infrequent watering, fertilizing, tomato blight or  tomato horn worm attacks. I’ve blamed a drought, heat spell, cold snap, torrential rains, thunderstorms and a tornado for ruining my summer squash and cucumbers. The truth is I yield about ten squash a year. I don’t use chemicals although other organic gardeners I know have abundant squash. The squash vine borers and squash bugs in my garden always win. I have a green thumb but apparently not a yellow one.

I thought about telling one neighbor, who never saw a cucurbit (cucumber) plant grow anywhere but the produce aisle, and asked why I didn’t have many cukes one year, that Cucumber Beetles held insect orgies in my garden to ensure survival of their species due to the drought. In conclusion, the drought increased their population and they wiped out my cucumbers! (Never mind cucumbers need watered daily and they were watered, oh, maybe twice a week.)

One of my garden highlights is my flower boxes. I enjoy mixing new species with different cultivars of old favorites. I routinely receive compliments on the cascading, multi-textured arrangements but this year was different. I planted the two front boxes with ‘Wave’ petunias, old-fashioned petunias, and petunias. (I intended to add other plants.) The other two boxes were overrun by ‘Blue Spruce’ sedum in 2013. My next-door neighbor inquired about the decline in standards.

“What happened to your flower boxes?”

“Which ones?” I asked.

“The ones you’ve always had,” she replied. “They’re so sketchy.”

“What? Oh, my God, my sweet potato vine, Angelonia and Torenia disappeared overnight! This weather is unbelievable.”

“Well,” my neighbor said. “The weather’s been nice. Where are the plants? You’re petunias look good.”

(If you can’t blame the weather, blame animals.)

“Those petunias—stur-ur-dy! Chipmunks don’t like them though. The ‘munks must have dug up the other flowers and ate them, roots and all. They’re eating everything this year.”

“Are you going to replace them? We love looking at the flowers from our windows.”

“Oh, no. New plants are expensive and require daily watering. That would be irresponsible of me with the neighborhood water restrictions and the chipmunk problem.”




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Jules Jacob

julie ginkgoJulie "Jules" Jacob is a contemporary poet who often writes about dichotomous conditions and relationships among humans and the natural world. Her poems are recently featured or forthcoming in Plume Poetry, The Tishman Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Rust + Moth, Yes Poetry and elsewhere. She is the author of The Glass Sponge chapbook with select poems featured at the Colorado Gallery of the Arts and Le Moulin à Nef where she was a resident of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts Poetry Workshop.

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