COLUMNS

Balancing Act: Natural green thumb? Not in my backyard

Pat Snyder
Guest columnist

I didn’t set out to buy a new house with an elaborate backyard garden. Maybe because I toured it in winter, I missed it.

I only know it was a shock when I went back for the inspection and noticed a green three-ring binder on the coffee table. It was titled “The Gardens” and featured a lush backyard picture on the cover and a nine-page grid of maintenance instructions inside.

Pat Snyder

“Probably something they copied out of a garden book,” I shrugged.

But no.

Turns out the seller was a master gardener. He had listed all his plants and trees and how to care for them and had drawn a two-page map showing their exact locations.

“How fabulous!” my friends said.

“How terrifying!” I thought, with good reason.

I have an abysmal history with plants. I do not set out purposely to kill them. I do it through benign neglect. Namely, forgetting to water.

The idea of a plant-lover turning over a dozen years of TLC to me is deeply guilt-producing.

Still, I began to rationalize that somehow in 2020, this garden was meant to be.

“A chance to reconnect with nature! Just what I need during a pandemic,” I thought. It’s hard to find a well-being article that doesn’t recommend it.

My back-to-nature bent had almost overcome my sinking feeling when large patches of brown needles appeared on what the map declared was a Sullivan cypress.

One morning it was just a branch, and the next it was as big as a city block.

I immediately summoned Dave the Pruner, referred by a friend when I realized this new garden would require large ladders and pruning shears.

“Hmmm,” he said in what turned out to be the first of a series of "hmmms" emitted by a series of tree lovers and arborists. “I think it’s a little dry.”

Happily, he did not blame me, only climate change and possibly genetics (the tree’s), and set out to un-brown the branches.

Because Dave does not lack for confidence, he “pruned off” what looked like the most offending of several trunks that were oozing sap. He pronounced it – surprise, surprise – probably under-watered. On the positive side, he thought it was free of disease.

“Trees are resilient,” he said. “It will probably bounce back.”

Vowing never to let the tree dry out again, I bought a 10-foot hose extension so I could trickle water around it slowly for hours at a time.

Still, the needles continued to brown, and I summoned an arborist, who made me feel no less guilty by suggesting that this little trickle would not make up for months of searing heat.

“Or it could just be diseased,” I said, almost hopefully.

“I don’t think so,” he replied.

Meanwhile, with more needles browning, I called in a second arborist, who also urged me to water.

By this time, I was sure that the neighbors were secretly Zooming to discuss how the cypress tree already was dying and, pretty soon, the entire master garden would be going to hell in a handbasket.

To forestall this disaster, I invited a friend with a horticulture degree to stop by. Sure enough, she spotted a black spot on the rose bushes, noticed the lavender was being choked out by the ornamental peppers and suggested I cut back what the map says are false indigo.

“But,” she said, “what is happening to that tree?”

With an urgency usually reserved for vomiting dogs, she implored me to send a branch to a pest-control lab.

“You cannot be too careful,” she said. “You wouldn’t want it to spread to the others.”

Immediately, I downloaded the form, wrote the check and shipped the branch off for science to make a final determination.

Sure enough, the branch showed no evidence of disease. And – ta-da! – the problem likely was over-watering because we’d had two very wet springs.

I’m going with the science on this and disconnecting the hose. Meanwhile, relieved for a moment from gardening guilt, I’m turning my attention from raising plants to installing a firepit in the middle of the garden.

I’m motivated only by a desire to host social-distance gatherings there in the winter. Nothing else.

And if an errant spark should land in the garden, well ...

Balancing Act author Pat Snyder is a northwest Columbus resident and life-balance speaker and coach. Find her at PatSnyderOnline.com.