The natural order of things

Janice Wells
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When I was an eager young gardening Martha Stewart wannabe, starting my very first garden in my very first house, I made a map of the whole property — back, sides and front.

I drew in the shapes of the beds as I created them and pencilled in little neatly labelled circles or ovals wherever I planted perennials or shrubs.

Then I cross-referenced this into a list where I made columns for common names, botanical names, varieties, expected size at maturity, date planted, date bloomed and notes of interest.

I kid you not. I can still see that hardcover ledger. I can’t actually see myself walking around the garden taking notes because that book went the way of baby books — lots of info in the first year and increasing gaps thereafter.

In fact, I don’t remember ever really doing anything but setting it up and feeling very organized and proud of myself as I began what I knew would be a lifetime of gardening.

I was right about that last part, but I just hadn’t realized then exactly what kind of a gardener, (or grown-up) I was going to be, because it certainly wasn’t the beginning of a lifetime of organization.

In fairness, I quite like organization in my house, even if it isn’t immediately apparent to the casual observer.

If I lived alone, everything in the house would always be in the spot where it is supposed to be, but this is a theory that I can’t seem to get across to a certain housemate.

Newman is a meticulous cleaner and loves to poke fun at me, but he puts things away willy-nilly. No matter how many times I say “plumbing parts live in this container; household fasteners, i.e. stapler, tape, elastics, paper clips, live in a pocket in the shoe bag on the back of the office door; batteries, fuses and other like electrical stuff live in the middle drawer of the plastic storage unit,” etc., he is constantly amazed when he’s looking for some obscure part or rarely used tool and I can produce it instantly.

Just today I went straight to my map box in my extremely crowded office and produced a map of Halifax for Daughter No. 1.

But organization in the garden seems to go against my nature. Perhaps it’s because I believe that Mother Nature is the important nature in the garden, the supreme organizer, and I’m happy to let her do her thing.

Having said that, I think over the past few years I’ve carried that theory a bit too far. Seeing some of your fabulous gardens has gotten me looking at mine more critically, and I’m getting a bit disturbed at how enthusiastically some plants are abusing my hospitality.

Plus, even a confirmed gin and tonic gardener can’t ignore that fact that if you don’t give a clematis enough help in getting a grip on the support you’ve provided, you may end up with what I have in two places in my front bed: masses of partially obscured flowers at the base where the tendrils have simply wound around themselves, and just a tendril or two climbing as they should.

Like a small house, a small garden needs a few ground rules if it is to be manageable and give the most pleasure with the least work and frustration.

As much as I have always loved self-seeders for their willingness to spread themselves around, they have no place in a small garden with a gardener who has trouble pulling things up.

Rather late, I have realized that what I should have are plants with a clumping habit that, while they may need dividing every now and then, will know their place and not send babies out in that aforementioned, frowned upon, willy-nilly fashion.

You all know this is not a “how-to” column, but staying away from self-seeders is a serious “how-not-to” tip for a small garden or a gardener who is into control.

Which I’m still not, really, but it’s never too late to adjust your style a little bit, especially if it means less work.

Janice Wells lives in St. John’s. Her latest book, “Newfoundland and Labrador Book of Musts,” was published in October 2010 by MacIntyre Purcell Publishing Inc. You can reach her at

Organizations: MacIntyre Purcell Publishing

Geographic location: Halifax

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