coping with my throw-in-the-trowel thoughts

BETWEEN SPRINKLER REPOSITIONINGS, I’M TAKING MY OWN ADVICE. I’m quieting my nerves by re-reading my 20-year-old essay written at just this time of year, when the garden always confounds me and seemingly just won’t cooperate. Are you having a throw-in-the-trowel moment over at your place, too?

Read the vintage essay, or just share your own pain right here in comments. You know how gardens are: They take us to the brink and then win our hearts back by magically rebounding, just as we’re about to mow them down or turn them under. Cheeky devils, aren’t they? Why didn’t I take up macrame or Bingo instead?

Off to move the vintage-kitchen-stool-turned-sprinkler-tower to another spot now…

  1. Iris says:

    I pitched two nursery specimens of catnip into the compost pile this past week… pots and all… after worrying about where to place them that would contain them and still not entice the cat to ruin an entire bed, I finally realized that said cat had ignored them for two months now as they waited for a home upon my deck… I expect those catnips will surprise me in the lasagna garden…

    I also have banned centered mirrored symmetrical plantings… ugh… whatever was I thinking… clusters… I am now mandating random clusters… yes…!!

    I too considered throwing in the towel… but I don’t have a swing or a hammock so I just have to keep going…

  2. Rachel Bozorth says:

    I’m absolutely fed up with my yard, my garden beds, myself, and my life right now. I bought a bunch of plants at a “public sale day” held by a wholesale native plant nursery back in June? May? — a while back, at any rate. Some of them are still sitting in the pots looking dejected and forlorn. I had high hopes of getting them all in the ground right away — even if they weren’t in a final spot — just so they wouldn’t waste away getting dry, root-bound, and pathetic in their pots. And I did get a few planted – ones that could go into beds that were already prepared.

    But then school let out, my sister came for a visit, and I did a series of obligatory trips to see relatives, blah blah blah. I got home yesterday, and those poor plants are still out there, sitting in semi-shade, barely hanging on. And now I’m in a panic – trying to figure out a way to get them in the ground somewhere, just so their roots are protected and moist, and they can ride out the heat of summer in the ground until I can find (or create) a real home for them.

    Thanks for letting me whine.

  3. phil says:

    I was too ambitious back in the benignly temperate days of April and May. I planted hostas galore, Rodgersia, Ligularia and a plethora of ferns. and then the rain stopped (here in southern Westchester county, NY). Now the heat has arrived and I’m missing the record rains of ’09. I can’t keep up with the watering, everything is wilting (especially the viburnums and bottlebrush buckeyes). Who will live and who will die? i’m not ready for these weighty questions….

  4. PatioPatch says:

    What a refreshing post. Sick of 2 or 3 sick roses, dry stony soil, excess shade and the sheer lack of design in my only sunny border. The garden has no overall glory but just enough bloomings to lift my flagging hopes.

    thank you


  5. Kali says:

    Please excuse my kvetching BUT, everything is wilting in a scorching heat wave, the lawn is a yellowy brown, the new Calycanthus and Lindera Benzoin are looking very very sad and I have 6 pots from the Brushwood Nursery vine sale that have been saying loudly and clearly “PLANT ME”. How can something that gave me so much pleasure only two weeks ago be making me so crazy and guilty? Thanks to all of you for making me feel I’m not the only one.
    My plan for tonight is to stay up for hours moving the sprinkler around during the hours when our well can replenish….hope for some thunder storms later in the week!

  6. Tom King says:

    Here in Lawrence, Kansas (z5), keeping ahead of the weeds–or good plants in the wrong places, if you prefer–is the main challenge. There’s no shortage of rainfall–more than usual for this time of year.

    Some bloom times have really jumped ahead, with Nicotiana sylvestris, hollyhocks and the Golden Rain trees already gone to seed, and hydrangeas on the downhill run. Daylilies (primarily H. fulva, orange ditch lilies) and hosta are peaking. It’s been a sweatbox here for the past two months. Maybe the increased humidity is pushing bloom times ahead. Still, everything is bright green and I’ve never seen so many fireflies in the evenings.

    1. Margaret says:

      Misery loves company! :)

      Welcome, PatioPatch. The soil looks like dust in some spots, and my soil is really good. Yikes. Too dry! I’m glad there are a few blooms at your place to keep you from total despair–here, too.

      Welcome, Kali. Kvetch away! This is a tough moment, every single year. I kept thinking all day the well or the pump would konk out, since I have had two hoses going from 8 till just now, but so far so good. And I will have to do that day in and out all week to get some water on each of the beds here. Ugh.

      Welcome, Tom. Funny you mention fireflies…I saw a few a week or two ago but hmmmm…not since. Tonight I will be on the lookout. Interesting that you have lots of rain but also heat…and so prolonged! No such thing as “normal” with weather, is there?

      Hope to see you all soon again.

  7. Johanna says:

    Well, after years of wanting a hydrangea paniculata, I planted two earlier this season. All was well until 6-1/2 inches of rain fell in two weeks, flooding the area where they were planted. Now they look dead. But I’m leaving them until the end of the summer, just in case broiling in the current 92 degree heat brings them back!

  8. jeg220 says:

    What exquisite timing! Just read the “Throw in the Trowel” column, and comments, and these latest comments. Perfect reading after hysterically planting about half of the plants I greedily bought at two-for-the-price- of-one sales this weekend. The unplanted ones sit reproachfully in the shade, and the forecast tomorrow is for 100+ degrees. What was I thinking?
    And now for some high octane bitching: everyone in my neighborhood has automatic sprinkler systems, in order to protect their investments in their insta-gardens, while I lug my forever tangled and kinky hoses around my labor of love, emphasis on the word labor. What’s wrong with this picture?
    And how awful will the gardens look in August, given the warp-speed blooming we’re getting this year?
    All right then, finished. Calmer. Thank you Margaret and all fellow gardeners. We are a deranged crew, but we mean well and are relatively harmless.

  9. Jane says:

    Great timing on the topic and one that other gardeners understand well. Yeah, I wonder sometimes why I took up gardening when other things would be so much easier. Right now my throw in the trowel area is a space that I’ve neglected all season and it’s filled with self sown annual poppies that are too thick to be healthy and of course the obligatory lambs quarters. I’ve been focused on other areas and just “forgot” to be attentive and now it’s July… I was intending to mulch this entire bed and put in impatiens, actea and other semi shade things. Oh bother. I’m also doing lots of watering now that the weather is in the 90’s and we are dry in the NY capitol district.

    Lots of lightning bugs in my area. Fireflies is so much more poetic a word, but I grew up calling them lightning bugs and can’t seem to change :)

  10. CJ says:

    I’ve snapped the blinds closed to keep out the sun, which also keeps me from having to look out the windows. Yuck! Brown lawns, drooping plants – can anything look sadder than a hydrangea trying to cope with heat?

    What I really want to know, though, is where the climate change deniers went? You know . . . the ones who claimed that last winter’s record snowfalls “proved” there was no such thing as global warming.

    It’s not smart to mock Mother Nature.

  11. Tod says:

    I didn’t throw in the trowel, I just put it down for a spell. A very hot, and dry spell as you know. I’ve thrown dozens of plants into the garden this season so at this point I’m just trying to baby them into adolescence. A cool lime hydrangae, 4 new clematis [taking your tip to spill them onto the bloomed tree peonies and rhodis], a bunch of hostas, hellebores, etc. 7 new fruit trees too! And my grafts, my apple grafts, they took. I cannot believe it. Out of the 15, I have 5 that took. 2 from the oldest tree on the property, probably over 100 years old as far as we can tell.

    Veggies look great! Tomatoes [thanks to your burying tip] are looking awesome. They’re so thick and lush. And a few dozen potatoes going on. Trying some straw to see if that works for me. Bunnies were at some of the veggies, so in the heat I slowly put rabbit fencing around the garden [and then jumped in the pond to cool off]. We shall see!

    Oh and the berries! They’re off the charts this year. Trying to save some for myself!

    Hope you’re doing well Margaret. Come visit! I’ll make you some vegan delights and such.

    : )

  12. Penny says:

    Thanks. I needed that. The other day, trying to get ready for the fourth with flats still languishing, I threw up my hands, put the hand shovel in the nearest empty pot, and walked off. Several of my guests looked strangely at the “plant”. Maybe now that I’ve simmered down I should go out and plant something.

  13. kathy says:

    I was thinking about Awaytogarden this weekend as I moved sprinklers from one dry spot to another. When I saw the picture of your sprinkler I couldn’t help thinking how we all share so many of the same joys and frustrations in our gardens. Record breaking heat and no rain in sight but I’d suck at knitting.

  14. terryk says:

    I’m glad to see I am not alone tackling the weeds, trying to get things into the garden bought earlier in the season. Most of all, it is good to hear others say they find their design skills still not up to par. Maybe we read too many garden magazines and books for our own good (no offense Margaret as I found yours so good I purchased a copy). Or perhaps it is that I have filled too many spots with late winter/early spring bloomers….

  15. emily says:

    it being my first spring as a newbie gardener, i was very ambitious and planted a million new things…then we had the hottest june on record, and the 2nd driest june. just a little discouraging!! the doublefile virburnum begs for water every day, the cavatine pieris shrubs have dropped all their leaves, the back side of my catawba rhododendron went limp and mushy…the only thing keeping my spirits up is my hydrangea paniculata ‘little lamb’ which has about 3 blooms. how is everything going to survive 2 more months of this?!

  16. Alesandra says:

    It’s incredibly dry and hot here in coastal Delaware. Moving sprinklers around all morning. We have a well so it’s always a conservation worry as well. Plants look desperate for water no matter how much I try to water but the weeds couldn’t be happier. How does that happen? Filled the birdbaths and the birds literally got in line for a bath…the cutest sight and they were all so polite or probably just dehydrated. Some potted transplants have yet to get into the garden and I feel so guilty. So darn hot, am missing my garden chores but not worth tempting heat stroke. And anyway, my reward for working in the garden last few days was a beaut of a wasp sting. Poor things are so crazed for water they’re hanging off the hoses and stinging me. Very painful sting, but I forgive them.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Jeg220. Deranged, yes, and irrigation-system-less here, too. I hear you!

      Welcome, Emily. How is everything going to survive is right. Deep soaking, then mulch, then more deep soaking, and on and on. (And crossing your fingers helps, too, as does an occasional rain dance.)

      Welcome, Alesandra. Heat stroke time here, too. Have to really be careful right now — any chores I do are after supper or before breakfast this week. Caution!

      Hope to see you all soon again.

  17. Adrienne says:

    It is so nice to hear other gardeners in the same boat! My dilemma is not so unusual, but my garden is entirely in containers on the patio of my rented apartment, so keeping up with watering in this 90-for-10-days spell we’re having is awfully challenging. I water before work, but when I get home everything is wilty and sad looking. If I water twice a day, though, the leaves start yellowing. Ack! Why can’t they just tell me what they want?!

    I’ve moved the delicates (tomatoes and peppers) into the small bit of partial shade, other than right next to the porch we’ve got full sun most of the day on the whole patio, plus reflected heat off the bricks. One zucchini has succumbed, but that pot is just too darn heavy to move. The only things keeping me going are the green tomatoes on the plants I grew from seed – my first time with successful tomato seedlings! It would be more thrilling if they weren’t so wilty when I get home.

  18. e says:

    One hose leaks so badly that I have to put a pail under it and empty said pail every half hour so that the basment doesn’t flood. I use the pail water to water the plants that this hose can’t reach because the lead hose to my other hose is broken and I can’t detach it to replace it. I hate watering. I never water the grass, just the plants, poor wilted things.

  19. Rosella says:

    Oh, my! Just what I need — a Wailing Wall! Almost exactly six months ago, we had 48 inches of snow in two back-to-back snowstorms. In the words of Francois Villon, Ou sont les neiges d’antan? They certainly haven’t left any lasting impression on this part of the mid-Atlantic. Dry? Just a trifle. Tired of hauling hose? I feel like a Volga boatman. I chose this summer to plant a Blushing Bride hydrangea next to the front door, and now I feel like the Cross Bridesmaid — that !@#$%%&& plant requires gallons of water every five minutes. Ready to throw in the trowel? Not quite yet, because I can’t find the trowel.

  20. Turling says:

    I’ve been having a throw-in-the-trowel moment for months. I would have thought starting a garden with nothing would have been easier then transforming one already there. Boy, was I wrong. So much open space, I don’t even know where to begin. It’s like going to a restaurant with a HUGE menu. I’m choiced into paralysis.

  21. Corrina says:

    The lawn is quite crispy – if you like that sort of thing. No irrigation here either, we never thought we needed it. I am focusing on keeping the flowers and veggies alive and it is not an easy task this year.

    I won’t throw a trowel just yet – there are lovely tomatoes on my plants. San Marzano, Risentraube and Brandywine and I am harvesting lots of basil and summer squash. One zucchini too! My melon plants are sending out runners all over and this is what keeps me going…

  22. Jayne says:

    Trowels are being thrown left and right! Duck! Mine is in the air as well. Every spare minute is spent dragging hoses around to deep soak the saddest looking specimens. Hydrangea need hydrating! Astilbe need aspiration. May apples may perspire. Dahlias dally. Beastly!

  23. Deborah says:

    Everything is toast here (in Delaware Co, NY), and I’m carrying water and hoses like everyone else. I have several perennials and shrubs purchased in May that are not yet planted. The ones that I heeled into a full-shade bed that want sun are looking pale. I haven’t cut back my catmint or geraniums yet, or tied up the William Baffin rose that’s taking over the back path. My bed of phlox and hydrangeas has been taken over by Cherry Bell campanulas (which look lovely at the moment, but what a mess!) I have an ever increasing scourge of lily of the valley in my shade garden. The bed of daylilies, lilies and Morning Light grasses that I did weed and mulch last week suffered an accidental side-swipe from my husband’s bushhog as he headed for the nearby field two days ago. (Four daylilies about to bloom cut off 2 inches from the ground!) The dogs ran through my Japanese irises and broke off several of the last blooms. Moles keep digging in my borders (but are doing a nice job of edging in a couple of places). I’m seeing the first of the Japanese beetles, and snails by the hundreds. Throw in the trowel indeed!

    We have 3 baby robins in a nest on top of the light at the back door, baking in the hot afternoon sun, so I dug out our fancy patio umbrella yesterday morning and put it over them. The other yard-sale umbrella went into the chicken yard. The house is not air-conditioned either, so we’re baking as well. Hanging on for Saturday when it’s supposed to only be in the mid-70’s here and a 50% chance of at least some rain.

  24. Christine says:

    I can’t keep up with the weeds and animals to see what is in my gardens! I have massive mugwort infestation in the vegetable garden. There are also twin fawns living in our yard, and the biggest rabbit I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s the size of a dog! I now have a vegetable patch full of stems, with immature peppers and tomatoes and beans hanging off them. No leaves, just fruit. They got the pea stems (not the peas themselves) early on. And the lettuce. The strawberry patch is long gone.

    Now the heat. Should I water my shriveling, leafless vegetables? I don’t think it matters at this point. SIGH!! I would like to throw my trowel at the wildlife!

  25. Emo says:

    The buckets of weeds that I pulled up forth of july weekend and the constant watering in this drought still don’t compare to my deer problem. The deer are pretty much the most frustrating thing. I’m constantly trying “deer resistant plants”. My peonies were their latest victim. They’re just sticks in the ground now. I had stakes and deer netting protecting a still young apple tree that they infiltrated by ramming it until the netting broke. They got in my fenced vegetable garden through my patio (which is suprising that they would be brave enter such an enclosed space). They ate my grapes, some tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes. Thanks goodness the majority of my garden is still okay. One thing I’m learning is that the deer will never give up.

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