Felder’s foibles, failures and future gardening plans

Published 1:53 pm Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Time for my 44th annual Felder Fesses Up column in which I highlight foibles and failures, and plans for a new gardening year. Hint: As British landscape guru John Brooks laughed one day in my front yard, “If you can’t have fun in your own garden, where can you?”

Starting with a very too-early freeze the month before 2023 officially began, a hard too-late freeze in March, and record heat and drought, this past year was a doozy. “Unkillable” nandinas defoliated, squirrels resorted to eating my newly planted kale, and aphids ran out of sap to suck, leading to the first autumn I can remember with no dripping excrement and black sooty mold on everything underneath. Need I say more?

None of that was my fault, but I did kill Big Jim, my 50-year-old rubber tree, by rotting the roots in an attempt to revive him/her/it/them. But in a going-with-the-flow mode, I spray painted the brown leaves of a dead Little Gem magnolia for autumn, then later bobbed its branches back to create a new glass bottle tree.

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And rather than completely remove a dead 80-year-old Cleyera, I sawed and leveled its multiple trunks, which now support a glass tabletop.

After learning that my toddler granddaughter loves fresh lettuce and English peas, I got her to help plant some, hoping to hook her on gardening; however, when the peas petered out, and a second planting failed miserably, I taped a few scavenged pea pods onto our plants lest she discover too soon how fickle gardening can be.

Delighted to be asked for advice and help with my grown children’s gardens (a gardening parent’s delight), I helped grownup Zoe build a fenced raised bed and took her shopping for winter flowers, veggies, herbs that she actually cooks with! And oversaw Ira as he deliberately overseeded his cutting-edge new “flower lawn” with clover, small wildflowers and low-growing winter bulbs.

Finally, after reading that “authentic” was selected as the 2023 Word of the Year, this grizzled old horticulturist has vowed to kick back into garden mischief mode. Not as in “up to no good” or outright rebellious, just coloring a little out of the lines, lightly tapping into my natural playfulness, doing what I want as an amateur gardener rather than toe the unswerving line of horticulture production.

Easy examples include letting autumn leaves lie and piling fallen limbs where practical, to foster and protect overwintering critters. Sneaking in a few artificial plants. Replacing continually-rotting wood walks and decks with no-fuss flagstone. Deliberately sowing wildflower seeds and poking pink oxalis corms here and there; keep in mind that I don’t have a lawn myself, I’m guerilla-gardening in vacant lots around the neighborhood. (Don’t tell anybody it’s me.)

Replacing broken and faded glass on bottle trees to better refract brilliant colors from sunshine before Daylight Saving Time rolls back around. Leaving a few carefully placed strands of holiday lights up all year because they make me smile. Pruning a boxwood into a big green meatball and a multi-trunk yaupon holly into an oversized poodle plant as horticultural virtue signals to neighbors.

Oops. Been doing all these all along. I’m just resolving to be a little more authentic, defined as “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.” It’s an attempt to treat my garden as less of a place for showing off skillfully maintained plants, more as an imperfect stage performance for me and mine; I give myself permission to not have to put my best foot forward all the time.

If not better weather or gardening next year, how about just a bit more fun?

Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist and host of the Gestalt Gardener on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to rushingfelder@yahoo.com.