I was out today dusting the sidewalk. It was that kind of a day, when the high clouds semi-obscure the suns rays. It’s a gardening day and in New York City, that means sweeping the sidewalk for many of us. I do have a garden though, small but productive, in my Brooklyn neighborhood. It’s in the front yard, if you will. Its not much of a yard, roughly 30 inches by 30 feet, running 1/2 the length of my apartment building. Between the soil and the sidewalk stands an iron fence, about 30 inches tall.
I water my garden about three times a year, outside of mandatory soakings after transplants. I do this with a white 5-gallon pail, filled at the spigot around the house corner, near where my landlord parks his pole setting truck. He's a telephone pole setter, not many like him.
At this time of the year I take stock of the growing season. You can, as many neighbors scratching their heads in wonder do, find me standing at the fence staring into my little plot. What I am doing here is re-organizing the plants, rethinking their placement. I do like to move the plants around. A fascination from the very first moment I had actually moved a plant. I was young; I dug up a sedum (yellow-green flowers, tiny leaves) growing in random placement around our foundation and moved it. I don't remember why. I also did this with clumps of grass in our backyard (not known for its lawn). I reclaimed sandy areas for play while agglomerating grassy ones. A gardener was born. I learned the magic of transplant, that I could also not kill something. Maybe even improve its lot or even its fate.
I killed alot along the way. I also learned not to care. You can't let death get in the way of your learning. I do not know how many plants I have lost. But I remember why when specific plants are in question and do not make those errors twice. In the service of learning, do things. This year I cut back my asters one time too many. Oh, they're okay-just budding out later than normal. But I wanted to push it, because these asters so often get out of control. Now I know and nothing was lost.
Every gardener has a specific set of circumstances. It is these that ultimately tie one to the land, specific knowledge meeting general knowledge. Me, well I have a garden where the soil may never actually freeze due to its proximity to the concrete sidewalk and foundation and its southern exposure. Last winter it was so warm, the clematis I recently transplanted from another garden leafed out in January! And we so often plant given our circumstances. I've been away for summers the last several years, so I planted for Spring and Fall. This summer the garden was rather barren because I was here to see it for the first time in years. Given my microclimate, now I'm thinking about upzoning my planting. I've always been a fan of pineapple sage (salvia elegans) and other mildly hardy sages. They grow as annuals here, but you know I think I might be able to get it to survive over winter.
The fact that I've been away every summer caused me to consider watering. I knew that I wanted a careless garden, a group of plants that essentially took care of themselves. So I chose based on my interests in color, form and so on, but also on whether or not they could support themselves with no water, all year. So here is a list of plants in my front yard:
Russian Sage -Perovskia atriplicifolia
Maximilian's Sunflower -Helianthus maximilianii
Yarrow -Achillea millefolium
Stonecrop -Sedum spp.
Primrose -Oenothera spp.
Hardy Ageratum -Eupatorium coelestinum
Chrysanthemum "Sheffield Pink" -Dendranthema x rubellum
Lavender -Lavandula angustifolia
Garden Phlox -Phlox paniculata
Climbing Rose "New Dawn"
Tickseed -Coreopsis lanceolata
Easy, everblooming shrub rose
Onion -Allium sphaerocephalon
They have all done exceptionally well, and I only water if it doesn't rain for weeks on end. This year, not at all. I do have a propensity for spreading plants. But this is a topic for another day.