I've started working a couple of days a week with the awesome Terry and Amy of Spotts Lawn and Garden. This microcompany is based here in Irvington, so I can ride my bike to headquarters in about five minutes. We tool around in a big black truck with a dump trailer attached. We weed, set stones, make garden plans, plant shrubs, pot up container gardens–we're like the organic avengers. It's hard work, but so much fun.
Anyway, I've seen some very cool gardens in the last couple of weeks. The act of weeding provides lots of time for thinking, so here are a couple of the very random thoughts that have occurred on the job:
Uniforms act like an Invisibility Cloak. Weird.
The Japanese hoe rocks. Seriously. Amy F. prefers her gardener's knife (another excellent tool, and one I use all the time), but for those shallow-rooted weeds, I love the long-handled Japanese hoe.
When we work in public spaces, we spend about a third of our time picking up cigarette butts and other refuse. While butts will eventually break down, it takes a long time, and in the meantime they are trash. Come on people; if you have to smoke, at least try not to litter too. (As a side note, tobacco has been shown to negatively affect the growth of other plants, so don't smoke in your garden.)
I saw the weirdest fungus ever. It had orange tentacles growing off a center mass that looked like a bunch of eyeballs. One was even split like an eyelid with an oozing center. Did you ever see the episode of Angel where someone gets infected by a demon and starts growing an eye in the back of his head? That's what it looked like–with tentacles. I rooted that puppy out pronto.
Old-fashioned neighborhoods have the nosiest (and friendliest) neighbors. When we work in Irvington, people stop, look at what we're doing, sometimes start a conversation. We worked in one of the newer neighborhoods (big houses, no sidewalks) and no one batted an eye. We could have been boosting massive appliances and I doubt anyone would have noticed.
One of the things about seeing all these great gardens is that you become even more aware where yours could stand a little improvement. I knew I needed a few more shrubs (at least one in back and one in front), but seeing these gardens cements it. The shrubs provide structure, some differing height, and winter interest. And there are so many great ones that there's no excuse for landscape designers to keep using the same ten that they seem to love.
There is more to mulch than the bags from Lowes. A good mix of compost and fine mulch covers the ground, suppresses weeds, retains water, and breaks down to improve the soil. It also approximates the dark look of soil really well. As for gravel mulch, don't be seduced. It's a bitch to weed. If you're going to use it for paths or whatever, be sure to put down some landscaping fabric first.
No matter what people tell you, gloves will not keep you from getting dirt under your nails. I've tried digging my nails into soap before putting on the gloves, but I still have to keep a nailbrush at every sink in the house. Also, my hands are like sandpaper. I've started carrying around a thick hand cream to apply between jobs. At least then the gloves with be rubbing cream into my skin instead of just rubbing the skin.
And by the way, those rubber-covered gardening gloves are great for all kinds of jobs. Get ones that fit though. I forgot mine one day and had to use some that were too big. I had to keep flipping the fingertips out of the way, which feels even weirder than it sounds.
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