I’m a failure. I just don’t know how else to phrase it. No matter how hard I try, no matter how many bags I put out for recycling, no matter how many boxes I haul to Goodwill, there’s always more stuff.
I see some light at the end of the tunnel but I think I need help.
Now I did some checking and it turns out that September is listed as National Self Help Month. But really, with all the gym ads, the organizing product sales, even Yew Dell’s current newsletter’s “Turn Over a New Leaf” program series, it seems January should wear the make-a-new-start crown. It’s time for January to formally jump on the bandwagon and take its rightful place at the head of the tidying up universe.
Our younger Yew Dell staff, the ones who quixotically try to keep me connected to contemporary society, have tried to make me a Marie Kondo convert — a follower of that doyen of organized, minimalist living that has exploded into a book publishing and Netflix streaming series juggernaut. And I’m starting to think they might be onto something.
Looking over my 2018 tax folder I show Goodwill donations of more than 25 shirts and 14 pairs of pants — and I still have clothes to wear! But since I’m more of a garden guy, maybe that’s where I can redeem myself.
Boiling down the “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” philosophy to an unfairly simplistic view, she’s all about sorting and weighing the value of any possession — the, “does the joy it bring justify the space it occupies (and the clutter it creates)?”
Oh how much better our gardens would look if we could follow that simple advice. So I’ve broken down problem plants in the yard/garden into a few categories to help you (me!) sort through it all and determine what to keep.
The middle of the lawn green blob
I read once that if something ceases to be useful, then the only purpose that remains is for it to be decorative. And I’d say if it’s a plant in the garden and it’s no longer useful, it better be pretty darned decorative. That singleton shrub sitting in the middle of the yard, what does it really contribute to the overall design? Aside from breaking up the monotony of mowing grass in perfectly straight lines, generally it doesn’t do all that much.
The ‘I’ll do better in the future’ hanger on
There are plants we place in the garden because we just know they’ll be perfect. They’ll look just like the catalog picture, complete with dewy beads on the leaves and a misty aura in the background. But then the reality of a Kentucky summer sets in, or a polar vortex, or the neighbor kid’s soccer ball and the reality just doesn’t pan out. Sometimes it’s just better to call it what it is — an experiment that didn’t pan out. Rather than looking at a half-dead plant for another few years, it might be time to cut the cord. If it’s too painful to completely let go you can try nicking the catalog image and blowing it up to giant size — like crazy fans do at college basketball games — and nail it to a stake in the garden!
The quizzical leftover
A matched pair of one. A rhythmic hedge with a few missing teeth. The focal point from a past design effort that is now more of a sore thumb. Sometimes even if the plant is performing just fine, it just doesn’t go. Maybe it never was in the right location in the first place. Maybe it made sense before some of its brethren bit the dust.
The formerly useful
This is one of my favorites. You planted a white pine (Pinus strobus) hedge 20 years ago to screen the neighbor’s strategically-placed, neon-colored playset that looks like an alien space ship landed in their back yard. For a few years, the screen planting worked just fine. But as they tend to do, your white pine’s lower branches have shaded out and now you have a row of bare, vertical trunks spaced every 10 to 15 feet and no screening branches on the bottom 15 feet. The result is that you’ve now created the perfect viewing frame for the playset. Time for those pines to go or for a new, shade-tolerant underplanting.
There’s probably another hundred or so categories I could cover here but now you get the idea. It’s time to open up that garden T-shirt drawer and start the winnowing. And if you have any success, maybe start a support group.
I’ll certainly join — as soon as I finish sorting my socks!
Yew Dell Botanical Gardens, 6220 Old Lagrange Road, yewdellgardens.org.
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