Monday, April 19, 2010

Groundcover, or Measuring the Courage of Your Convictions

For the small garden gardener, groundcover—for example, creeping phlox, alyssum, creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia), ajuga (Ajuga reptans)—may be categorized as either blessing or curse. In its former guise, groundcover may almost instantly transform small patches and beds into floral carpets or coverlets of richly-textured and colorful foliage; the arresting display is worth the effort, or lack of effort as it were.

But groundcover may also curse the soul of the gardener who planted it. It invades. It conquers. It recognizes no boundaries. I spend considerable time and energy cutting back ajuga each morning as it nightly assaults the ramparts of Golden Tiara Hosta, or ripping out the improperly named Creepy Jenny (a more apt designation would be Leaping Jenny) from the front garden. Now, my stunning lavender phlox may need some trimming as it overtakes a chrysanthemum and threatens a Bird’s Nest Spruce. (Admittedly, I really wanted my Blue Star Lithodora to do what the others are doing, but it could not withstand nearly 4 feet of snow over the winter.) At the time, planting groundcover seemed appropriate, a rescue remedy for the barren earth than is the new garden.

But choices need to be made, aesthetics pleased, tastes acquired, and plans amended. With regards to amending plans, the gardener needs to dispose of remorse and shed sensitivity; the Realist gardener must take hold and show no mercy on errant plants.

I shan’t obliterate my ground cover, but I shall attempt to control it with some concentrated excisions by the trowel or, as with the larger sprawls of ajuga, the shovel. In this respect, I won’t permit those lovely blue spikes to influence my decisions, as compelling as they are. In part, I know ajuga will always grow back. Also, ajuga forms a critical part of my long term strategy in my war against nature with nature. I simply transplant ajuga to those sparsely populated areas of the so-called lawn. Given that I do not own a lann-mower or weed-eater (save for my Gramsci-cat, who can’t keep up with what grass does exist), I don’t care. In fact, I grant it a "marque of reprisal and proliferation" in my war against weeds, lawn, and, after heavy rains, mud holes that Gramsci always seems to locate and, well, enjoy.

In the garden beds, however, I have learned that greater control is needed. The property of 410 is limited; thus I don’t wish to relinquish valuable space to excessive ground covers (and ground covers always end up excessive), or, more importantly, any opportunity for experimentation and the introduction of additional specimens which attract and seduce me. The size of my property, not vanity or snobbery, remains the central source of my selectivity. Hence when I scoff at day lilies or impatiens--which, as I realized last year in my own gardens, are the real flowering work-horses as they continued to produce blooms even after 2 frosts--I reflect my bourgeois distaste for my proletarian limitations.

Groundcover, I conclude, becomes the perfect proxy for measuring the certitude of one’s will. One either succumbs to its beauty (which has the advantage of permitting the gardener—or ought that title be stripped and the person simply referred to as a property owner?—to do other things), or one plants and celebrates it (as I have done), only to attack it with occasional ferocity in an effort to manage it. Only with such experiences, ones that pit us against improbable foes, can one develop the courage of one's convictions.

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