One of my many favorite tunes features Ray Charles and Norah Jones singing Here We Go Again, which at the moment is stuck in my head. Because by the time you read this, I will be healing from my second hip replacement. At least I’ll have matching legs now! Just in case you’ve lost count, this is hip surgery number four. And don’t forget shoulder surgery, two neck surgeries, and a back surgery. Apparently I was destined to be a Thanksgiving turkey or a glue horse instead of a gardener.
I’m not a bit worried or afraid however and here’s why. My 53 years on earth have been wonderful. I’ve met incredible people, experienced wonderful things, and seen beautiful gardens. If I die on the operating table, they can haul off my crippled bones with no regrets. I already requested the last hip bone for my dogs and was met with a morbid, resounding NO, but I suppose if I’m dead, they’ll have to turn over all of them! A nice spot in Arcadia beneath a clump of jonquils near Rosie and Ilex would be ideal. I was always told that bulbs like bone meal.
First of all, I’ve learned to have my surgeries during the down months of our blistering summers or our short cold winters. There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing a bed that needs weeding, a yard that needs mowing, or a row that needs hoeing when you can’t get up to tend to it.
It’s also dangerous to try and garden while your body is healing. After my last hip replacement I took my walker into the corn patch and tried to pick sweet corn because I couldn’t stand to see it go to waste. Getting into the patch was difficult at best. Getting back with the corn was next to impossible. And after my last hip tendon surgery while doing a rehab walk around my pines I happened to notice that the fleeting chanterelle mushrooms were up. Well, it just wouldn’t do to leave them there so I slowly sprawled out like a baby giraffe at a watering hole. Once again, getting down was hard but getting back up with delectable fungi in hand required Divine intervention. Bottom line: Make sure the weather keeps your crippled butt inside until you are well!
Thankfully I’ve always been enamored with those plants that tolerate our feast or famine Texas weather. It’s the very reason I was attracted to Bill Welch, Pam Puryear, cemeteries, and abandoned homeplaces. If plants can survive decades and even centuries of floods and droughts with their former owners long dead, they can certainly survive my temporary convalescence. Therefore I’m very convinced that any Texas landscape should be well stocked with the backbones of antique roses, heirloom bulbs, Texas natives, and Texas Superstars. These are all “time tested” as my mentor Bill Welch would say and are proven performers. Most big box stores have no concept of these uniquely adapted regional players, but thank goodness The Arbor Gate does. Thank you Beverly!
I’ve also learned the hard way to design my landscapes so that others can look after them if need be. In my opinion the first thing to consider when coming up with a landscape plan is how easy it is to mow around. In my case that includes both lawn mower and tractor. For many gardeners somebody else does the mowing. If you want an imminent disaster, just make a bed with angles that can’t be mowed, or stick lone plants out in the middle of the lawn and see what happens! Though I love formal landscapes with rectilinear beds, I design mine with natural mower curves. Heck I even design mine for my truck to drive through! I’ve always said that “the design is more important than the plants” and like it or not, it’s true.
Of course those plants have to be maintained or in some cases continually changed out. This all required physical labor. That’s why I use Texas-tough perennials instead of annuals. The year round impact might not be the same, but the amount of time and labor is certainly reduced. Other time and labor savers include massing plants together, mulching to prevent weeds, and intensive raised beds instead of sprawling row crops.
At some point we all have to give up things; first a few, then some more, and then all of them. For that reason I’ve prioritized the importance of the plants and beds in my garden. From a design standpoint, the last three I’ll cling to are my naturalized spring and fall bulbs, my crapemyrtle allée, and my little front perennial border. Whenever I can’t garden at all, I’ll give up the border and still be perfectly happy with my narcissus, daffodils, and jonquils each spring, my crapemyrtles during the summer, and my oxblood and spider lilies every fall. I know for a fact that all of them can survive without me. The crapemyrtles just have to avoid the chain saw and the bulbs just ask for a once a year mowing to prevent their open meadow from turning into a forest.
But you know what. If they turn into a forest, I’ll be happy with that too. Even before gardening, my first love in this world was nature. So as long as you prop me by a window next to a bird feeder or birdbath and drive me around my woods and meadows periodically, I’ll still be smiling, at least on the inside. And when I can’t see anymore, open the windows and let me hear and smell the scenes and sounds. We gardeners and nature lovers are a resilient and happy lot. The rest of the world should take notes. -Greg