Sunday, October 25, 2009

Dividing fall plants

As usual, time has flown by and we are now in late fall. I still haven't divided my big, overgrown clumps of lilies, bearded irises, phlox, hostas and echinacea. I marked them all carefully and made a mental note to divide in September, and then ignored it. Of course, I was busy, but I also didn't quite know what to do with all the plants -- I didn't have a game plan, so I avoided the chore. I have some holes in my beds that I need to fill, but in general, my garden space is precious. Yet I can't imagine throwing them out! I could give them away, but I'm so late with dividing who will want the extras? Who wants my cast-offs anyway? This may all be a moot point...I'm not even sure how well the pared down plants will do this late in the year, so perhaps I should just dig, divide and see what survives in the spring.

The budding garden designer in my head is telling me that I should edit out some of the single specimens I have floating in my beds like lonely orphans.... a beautiful clump of healthy hostas will always look better then three or four ill-matched and scraggly plants from the perennial sale table at the nursery. I can never resist...I see them sitting forlornly on the table, and how cheap they are, and decide I can squeeze them in. A bad move for so many reasons, especially since the colors and foliage usually aren't harmonious, and the bed ends up looking very haphazard. Moreover, these are not the choicest products of the nursery. In a small space, only the healthiest plants should be featured, as every shortcoming will visible. There are no sweeping fields of color or deep beds of foliage to hide the occasional dud. I would never buy edible produce bruised and past its why are my standards lower for plants that will last much longer?

Tomorrow I will bravely take spade and saw to the denizens of my garden. I will remind myself over and over that these were all small little plants a few years ago, and they have grown mature and full quite rapidly. If half a hosta or a few lily bulbs end up in the compost, so be it. The main plant will be healthier for the trim. I will replant what I can, attempting the massed effect advised by garden gurus. Worst case scenario, none survive, and I have more space to play with in the spring. But nature is feisty, and I suspect that if these plants have made it through wan urban soil and a neglectful caretaker thus far, they will probably live to fight another season. As Annie Dillard wrote in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,

"The way plants persevere in the bitterest of circumstances is utterly heartening. I can barely keep from unconsciously ascribing a will to these plants, a do-or-die courage, and I have to remind myself that coded cells and mute water pressure have no idea how grandly they are flying in the teeth of it all".

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