Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
March, 2006
Regional Report

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After putting up with these chestnut burrs for years, I've given myself permission to cut down the chestnut tree that has overgrown its place in my yard.


We all know that change is challenging, nay gut-wrenching, even if the situation is a change for the better. Change plays a big role in our lives as gardeners. This year, the weather may be hotter, colder, wetter, or drier than last year. The rose that last year arched so beautifully over the arbor may not have survived winter's subzero temperatures. The anise hyssop that made such a lovely combination with the salvia has now appeared among the hollyhocks. Perhaps it's because change is so much a part of our lives as gardeners that we sometimes resist it all the more.

We design a garden and go full steam ahead, even if along the way it might be obvious that an alternative would be better. Or maybe we always collected daylilies, but now peonies catch our eyes and we feel guilty for abandoning our long-time love. Alternatively, we might put blinders on and not even see the possibilities that change could bring to us and our gardens. In other words, we don't realize that we're in a box, let alone make the decision to step out of it.

In the Garden
As may be obvious, change is on my mind. On many levels. As it relates to gardening, my "aha" moment came with the Chinese chestnut tree. My parents planted it 20-plus years ago. Where it stands is near what is now my perennial border and in an area of lawn where I have begun to plant fruit trees. One day this winter I was trying to decide where to plant more fruit trees, frustrated for space. Simultaneously, I was walking near the chestnut and cursing the leaves that never seem to decompose and the burrs that litter the ground that I, inevitably, kneel upon when working in the perennial border. Plus, I don't even like the chestnuts. Suddenly, the veritable light bulb went off in my head. I could cut the chestnut tree down. For a moment, I considered the positive aspects of it, the dappled shade and the lovely rounded shape, but bottom line, it could go.

Actually, some major gardening shifts had already started for me. Over the last couple of years, my interests have more and more focused on native plants and the concurrent understanding of the problems created by invasive plants. Basically, I'm very analytical, pondering decisions for months (or years), then I act with what may appear to others as incredible swiftness. My biggest stumbling block to change is a very sentimental nature.

Last fall, having some readily available help and an overgrown shrub border, it was almost easy to make the decision to remove a winged euonymus my mother had planted. Despite its lovely red fall color, it is a notorious invasive, prolifically spreading its seed about the garden. Plus I have a number of blueberry plants that fill the need for bright red fall foliage. Now, I can already feel the urge to cut down a nearby spreading euonymus to give a winterberry holly more breathing room.

In Life
Fueling some of the other recent changes in my life was a decision to participate in the Master Naturalist training offered by the Cooperative Extension service. This is a program similar to that of Master Gardeners, only oriented toward the natural history of an area and the environment. Although these interests have always played a role in my life, the Master Naturalist training has served to remind, rekindle, and ignite.

Recently, we had a field trip to a nearby National Wildlife Refuge. Watching, listening, and being aware of birds is nothing new for me, but to be exposed to another level of observation was an incredible experience. Seeing over a dozen wild ducks I never knew existed, getting a spotting-scope view of a horned lark for the first time, watching five bald eagles pose in topmost tree branches ... these are experiences that were profound. And still, I had debated with myself about whether to go that day, for going meant not doing some work that had to be done, getting up early, enduring the cold.

Making a decision, a commitment, being open and willing to change, trying something new, doing something a different way, tackling a new subject -- these are all potentially scary experiences because they represent change. We can't foresee the outcome, and there are no promises that the change will be all "sweetness and light," but the exciting part is that it will give us the opportunity to learn and grow. For gardeners, there are certainly infinite opportunities for change: new plants, new methods, new ways of doing things. Since change is such an intrinsic part of our gardening, we have to make an extra effort to challenge ourselves. I lay down the gauntlet, for myself and for you.

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