Henry Homeyer: Tea at 10 feet, garden parties amid a pandemic

By Henry Homeyer
©2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

In these times, garden parties are few and far between. But if you practice social distancing (tea at 10 feet) and wear masks as needed, you can still share your garden with others. And despite all the hoopla about how people are gardening more, we all still have weeds, but don’t let that daunt you. Here are some tips for making the garden look great, weeds and all – and sharing it with others.

Lyme, N.H., has an informal group of gardeners that associate in a “not-quite-a-garden-club.” No dues, no meetings – except a mid-winter potluck. Someone manages a list serve with good info, links to articles, questions, offers of free plants, and more.

An edging tool helps cut nice edges but a shovel will work too.

Each summer, members take turns hosting a weekly “Pardon-My-Garden” event. All members are invited to pop by a garden, tour around, share libations and snacks, pull weeds, offer suggestions. These are wonderful. But this year some are hesitant to attend, or to host. Here are a few ways brave souls have reduced risks:

1) Instead of having a garden open for 2 hours in the evening, some are saying, “come anytime between 1 and 7 p.m.” That makes the population density at any time lower.

2) Attendees are invited to bring their own glasses, if they want to enjoy a drink. Or hosts serve drinks in single-serving cans or bottles. At one event, box wine was served – no need to touch a cork or bottle. For snacks, there were little zipper bags full of nuts, presumably prepared wearing gloves and a mask.

3) Everyone is very respectful of interpersonal space. Hard not to hug friends after weeks of isolation, but we all just have to wave.

June is the best time in my garden. I have a primrose garden in the shade of old apple trees with many hundreds of candelabra or Japanese primroses (Primula japonica) in full bloom. So I want to share this with friends, and recently invited 2 other couples to join Cindy and me for a tour and a chat.

So in order to get your garden ready first mow the lawn the day before the event. I have a nice battery-powered string trimmer that I used to tidy up those corners and edges the mower doesn’t get. A nice lawn sets a good first impression.

Moist rich, shady soil is good for Primula japonica.

My partner, Cindy, loves cutting sharp edges around flower beds. She uses an edging tool that looks like a half moon on a long handle to shape nice curves to beds. She also uses a tool that you could make: 30 feet of strong masons twine wrapped around two nice wooden pegs with points. She pushes a peg into the ground, unwinds some string, and pulls the string tight from the other end. She then pops the second peg into the ground. That gives her a perfectly straight edge if she needs one. Great in the vegetable garden.

Next, I look for tall weeds, things that tower over our tidy flowers. If you have a clump of tall timothy grass that came, via seed, from last year’s mulch hay; dig it out. And any weed that is blooming should be pulled before it goes to seed and creates more work later on. Don’t worry about weeds in beds with nothing blooming – no one will pay attention.

Look for empty spaces. After getting the most obvious weeds, there will be spaces. You can cover these with mulch, if you wish. Or you can divide a large clump of perennials and put a few in the space. Of course, you can also go to the garden center and spend your Covid-19 relief check on new plants, too. Annuals are easy fillers – and many bloom all summer.

Plants in pots are good fillers, too. I have a large blue and white Chinese vase with papyrus growing in it. It has been wintering over in the house for several years, and is a big, handsome plant. I am not above moving it from the deck to the garden to fill in somewhere, or to add interest to a place with no blossoms.

This Papyrus will spice up a garden if moved outdoors.

So far, most things aren’t tall enough to flop, but peonies are about to bloom for me, and a hard rain will knock many of them to the ground unless they are surrounded by peony cages or tied up with stakes. Best to support them now, before they flop. The same goes for delphinium, those lovely tall flowers that are famous for flopping and breaking in a hard rain. Like weeding, staking takes time and patience, but makes for a much better experience, over all.

Lastly, clean up the front of beds. Weed, and if you like mulch, add some. I mulched the first 4 feet of my huge primrose garden, and a friend thought I’d done the whole thing!

Some feel that gardening is a solitary venture. Not me. Yes, working alone, or with Cindy, is fun. But sharing the garden with others is even better. And when I do invite people over, I generally have some “spare” plants potted up to send home with my guests. And the great thing is, I know when I visit their gardens, I will go home with something I love.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeHenry Homeyer's Notes from the Garden

About the Author: Henry Homeyer is a lifetime organic gardener living in Cornish Flat, N.H. He is the author of four gardening books including The Vermont Gardener's Companion. You may reach him by e-mail at henry.homeyer@comcast.net or by snail mail at PO Box 364, Cornish Flat, N.H. 03746. Please include a SASE if you wish an answer to a question by mail.

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