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Essays on Gardening

Ten Tips for Gardening
Bamboo Trellises
Garden Sticks
Small Is Beautiful
Historical Society Tour

Top Ten Tips for Gardening This Spring
   (From The Fairfield Citizen News, Fairfield, CT)

  1. Remove all roses from the garden. They're just too much trouble. If you want to see them in bloom, go to England. They look great there.

  2. Remove all man made objects that weigh less than 500 pounds from the garden. Try to garden tchotchke free next year.

  3. Stop reading Penelope Hobhouse for good.

  4. Get rid of at least 51% of everything you've planted. Be honest — most of it's not working.

  5. Cut down a maple tree and plant something else.

  6. For heaven's sake, stop worrying about the lawn. Don't fertilize it anymore. Just mow it and watch for a much more horticulturally interesting result.

  7. Cancel all your garden magazine subscriptions.
    A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

  8. Willfully skip a garden club meeting and weed instead.

  9. At every sundown, take in hand heavy gauge loppers and go about whacking vine wherever you see it growing.

  10. Steal dumb sundials that don't work from your friends' gardens and throw them in the dumpster behind Stop and Shop.

Bamboo Trellises

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bamboo trellis The yellow groove bamboo (phyllostachys aureosulcata) that we cultivate in our garden grows to about thirty feet in one season. Some of it can be harvested each year and used to make trellises. The trellises are drilled, pegged and tied together. The smaller outer branches not used in trellis making can be trimmed and used as excellent pea stakes.

Bamboo is highly rot resistant if kept out of the soil. My method is to secure the trellis by bracing it about a foot away from the wall to which it is attached. This allows for air space between the plants and the wall. The trellis can easily be removed when a wall needs to be painted. Rather than placing the base of the trellis into the ground, I drive sturdy metal stakes (rebar, or black pipe) into the ground and slip the hollow bamboo onto the stakes. This, along with the top braces, will keep the trellis secure against wind, snow, and ice.

My idea is to improvise designs according to the size and shape of the bamboo selected. Though they are stylistically similar, no two are ever exactly alike. Trellises made in this fashion offer thematically coordinated structures that are unique and personal in the garden, rather than the ubiquitous, mass produced items found at garden shops.

— T. McFaul

Garden Sticks

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garden sticks A stick is the perfect accessory for walks in the garden. When we work in the garden we always have something in our hands: a rake, pruning shears, a shovel, loppers, a saw. A stick is a useful thing to have in hand when we simply walk in the garden. When we're in our own garden the stick says "Just stroll now, ramble and observe." Many of us spend too much time working and not enough time just being in our garden; flaws, weeds, unfinished projects and all.

When visiting a friend's garden, a stick can be used to point at a plant when asking a question, or just to admire something specific. With a stick, one can lift the heads of shy blooms like hellebores, trillium, or the unusual daffodil hybrid that has collapsed in the last rain storm.

A stick can be used to scoot away a branch or twig that is in your way on a woodland walk, or to push away a rose cane without using your hand. With a stick, you can lift canopy out of the way, push away wet foliage you do not wish to come in contact with, sketch an idea in the sand.

Above all, a stick just feels good. It's something to hold on to that symbolizes the too infrequent times we allow ourselves to be masters rather than servants of the garden. Of course, with a stick you can always stab a slug, or push a dandelion head into the ground. So it's just another tool after all.

All these sticks are homemade. Each has a tiny personality, an individual quality you won't find among those mass produced and sold in stores or catalogs. We keep a collection of sticks to pass out to guests for walks in the garden.

Small Is Beautiful

Click on the image to see it in high resolution.

Ellen's troughs Gardening in the macrocosm has been my greatest passion for some years, but I find a great deal of satisfaction can come from designing and executing a garden in one square foot as opposed to one acre. Miniature gardens in small troughs may inspire others to explore this microcosm. Scaled-down worlds of wee alpines, stones, and conifers in carpets of moss will be used to create the varied themes of garden places in tiny spaces.

— E. McFaul

Westport Historical Society Tour

Enter! June 8, 2003, was an extraordinary day at Bogmoor. From 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., nine hundred people visited the garden. When the Westport Historical Society asked us to be on their tour back in March, we had no idea there would be so many in the garden. There were about a half dozen helpers, docents, stationed all around the garden, along with a traffic cop in the street, directing parking. No vehicles were allowed onto the property. The Historical Society's volunteers are a fine group of people — almost exclusively women. It seems that American men have not yet taken up gardening in large numbers, as they do in England or Italy. Men here are still playing golf. Golf and gardening do not mix well.

There wasn't a ray of sunshine all day long, though it didn't rain. In a way, the muted light of an overcast day enhances the garden, especially during the harsh light of midday, when most garden tours are given. Tours are always scheduled from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. If you want to see a garden properly, the hours should be 5:30 a.m. to 9:00  a.m. Then close the garden and reopen it from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Those are the hours when all gardens look best. Then one sees the long light, the shadows, the definition of the place. It is similar to observing the moon with a telescope. The worst time to observe the moon is when it is full. When the moon is full, there are no shadows, there is far less definition, much like high noon in the garden. One best observes the moon in its phases, when the jagged edge of its cusp shows the shadows of its mountains, rills, and impact craters.

We've had so much rain that we've put down several bales of hay and straw on the back paths to keep them passable. But on tour day Bogmoor lived up to its name. With all the traffic, parts of the back paths turned into a cow yard. I told the docents to discourage visitors toward this part of the garden. Throughout the day, the docents kept reporting back to me, "I tell them not to go back there, but they insist." I took the back paths myself midday, at the insistence of a docent, and found places where I was ankle deep in mud. There was a courageous, eighty-year-old woman behind me, smiling all the way. I don't think she was just being nice; I think she was enjoying the adventure, the journey. She had the right foot gear anyway. Fundamentally it seems the best people to have in your garden are the very old and the very young.

We had many children in the garden. Children get everything right away, without being told a thing. They explore, without being asked to do so. When adults importune politely, "Show me your garden," I never know what to do. Here's a path, that's a plant, we could go here, we could go there. I feel as if I am simply an object in front of them, obstructing their view. Children never ask, they explore on their own, find everything, and get the whole thing right away. Hundreds of children have been in our garden over the years, and not one has ever been destructive in any way. I think children spend most of their time being told what to do, by their parents, by their teachers, etc. When they are in my garden I don't need to tell them what to do. They do what I want without being asked. They sit on the benches, they swing in the swing, they drink the lemonade, they get down on their knees and look at the details. They see everything.

It was a wonderful day. Many visitors expressed their positive feelings about the garden, some in extraordinary, articulate language. I had the sense that people were genuinely glad to be in the garden, that they thought it worthy of their attention, that they felt good in it. Of course I understand that those who might have found it less than pleasing would probably not be inclined to share that with me. No one ever comes up and says "Ya know, this garden really sucks." Tour day allowed talking to only a small number of people, even though Ellen and I were out there all day long.

I don't know of any environment where people are more kindly disposed toward one another than in a garden. Nearly a thousand people were here on tour day, yet there was not a shred of human detritus left behind. No candy wrappers, no cigarette butts, not a scrap of cellophane, no empties, all little lemonade cups disposed of in the proper waste basket. We did not have to clean up after anyone. Our garden has been on many tours, and this good behavior is always evident. The people who visit gardens are by and large a careful and respectful lot.

The most common questions are "What do you do about deer?" "What's the name of that plant?" Along with "Oh, it must require so much work, do you do it yourselves?" These are tiresome questions, but ones that must be answered over and over again, all day long. Yet among this large group, there were many who shared personal observations, emotional or aesthetic feelings that were astute and genuine, a joy to hear. I wish I could remember the words. There were things said that I would like to have written down.

Bogmoor is our garden. We do it for ourselves. It is nothing less than an unending, never complete, always changing folly, that lasts only as long as we last. Yet it is the greatest work of art that I've ever had a part in making. It is Ellen and Tom's creation (folly). Sharing it with others is a pleasing and rewarding thing to do.

Copyright © 2002–2011, Thomas G. McFaul
Last modified: Wed May 11 09:50:04 EDT 2011
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