A Gardener’s Notebook: The Guilty Gardener  – 1 in a series
Douglas E. Welch

It has taken me a long time to write the piece. Frankly, I am embarrassed and don’t really want to share that embarrassment publically. Still, I think it is important to do so and perhaps, just maybe, you can help me get back on the right track…in the garden.

In the past, I have written columns about being a “lazy gardener” and how my garden survives on benign neglect. Due to a few health issues over the last couple of years, though, my neglect has become none too benign and laziness has turned to guilt. I look out my back door, or into the front garden as I drive away and feel deeply guilty that it looks so bad. I am so guilty, in fact, that this is yet another way that I feel even more guilty each time I do.

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I often say that it is much easier to enjoy someone else’s garden as you aren’t constantly noticing all the unkempt plants, the un-done projects and the improvements you have always meant to do. There is no guilt to be found in someone else’s garden. It is pure joy.

That said, I am hoping to break out of the gardening guilt over the next few months and I am enlisting your aid in the process. Since I seem unable to meet my own self-imposed deadline, perhaps with some urging and help from you I can make some progress in the garden. What do you say? Are you up for the challenge?

A few projects to address

One of the first projects and probably the largest and most troublesome is all the deferred maintenance that has piled up. With all the large trees on this fairly small property, the leaf litter is overwhelming. I used to be able to keep on top of it a little better, but we need some dramatic action, I think. One possibility is bringing in a small crew to clean out the entire garden in a day or two and give us a much needed “reset” from which to grow.  I have a chipper, although it has remained unused for some time, and would like to use the shredded leaves to mulch around the garden, but I haven’t been able to make the effort yet.

If you have a lot of leaf litter, how best do you deal with it?

Another project, among many, is to find some ground cover that can thrive under a canopy of trees. This dry shade area of the garden, while feeling wonderfully like a tiny bit of woodland here in urban Los Angeles, needs something to make it greener and more inviting. I have read more books on shade plants than I care to admit, but I haven’t seemed to find anything that has a reasonable chance of success and that I can locate locally. There are a few natives that might meet my needs, but this probably requires a trip to San Diego County to find a source. Still, if you could offer a few recommendations, it could be worth the trip.

Guilty garden 3

Dry Share Area of the Garden Looking Souttheast

Guilty garden 1

Dry Share Area of the Garden Looking Northeast

What do you use as ground cover in dry shade areas underneath mature trees?

Now my guilty complaining doesn’t mean we haven’t had some successes. The Brunfelsia I planted along the wall in this dry shade area have both done well and even bloomed this year. We also rescued a host of small plants (society garlic, spider plants, agapanthus) from a new neighbor’s front yard and these have helped to green up another area in the back garden.


Brunfelsia (Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow)

Rescued Plants

Rescued plants

In the front garden, our 3-year-old pomegranate tree is doing well, although one item on my to-do list is to prune this into more a shrub than a tree to allow for easier harvesting. Our neighbor has a lovely, much older pomegranate tree, but its size makes it difficult to get the fruit at the very top. Beneath the pomegranate is a native buckwheat that is doing amazingly well. We had to give it a good trim when we installed the wine bottle edging around this bed, but it is already growing back steadily.

There is is, then. Lots of challenges and a few successes. I’ll be highlighting more guilty secrets in future columns. I hope you can help me with some suggestions and, perhaps, some friendly nudges to get back out into the garden, guilty feeling or no, and make it, once again, a place I love.