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A recent Manchester Garden Club event featured speaker Nancy DuBrule-Clemente shown here, at left, with club co-president Beth Brunone.| (Photo by Judy Moeckle.)

How to simplify your garden

Nancy DuBrule-Clemente, garden expert and owner of Natureworks, an organic garden center in Northford, speaks to people about their gardens, she may ask them “what things make your garden(s) hard to take care of?”

Answers usually include “too many plants to deadhead,” and “encroaching” grass and plants. Most problems come down to this: “I love my garden, but it’s too much work.” Lifestyle, physical abilities and energy change with age. What was once a simple garden may have turned into a massive, demanding entity. How does one get started simplifying?

I traveled to Manchester recently to hear DuBrule-Clemente speak at a meeting of the Manchester Garden Club, which is large and active.

She offers five things you can do to plan a simpler garden. It’s not a quick fix; this process can be ongoing, as your house, gardens and even yourself changes over the years.

1. Buy an inexpensive journal and write down what your goals are for your property for the next five to 10 years.

2. Write down what you want - plants you can’t live without, gardens that must remain.

3. Write down what you could eliminate that you presently have- a wild perennial border, overgrown foundation plantings, etcetera.

4. Fantasize about what your dream for your yard would be- is it possible?

5. Spend quiet time searching your soul for the answers to what you want/need to do to simplify your gardens- it’s hard work.

If she has a theme for her garden advice, it’s this: Dwell and believe in possibilities. When you start dreaming, she suggests, do a sketch of your property and gardens. Use tracing paper, or blow up photos and mark your ideas on them. Words in “idea” bubbles” are fine, for example, “walkway” or “sitting bench.” Some dreams may include things that involve an investment of time and/or work, so you have to weigh this against what you will get out of it. I was intrigued by the idea of raised bed gardens with wide boards along the top, so I could garden them while sitting on the edge. But these are expensive, and really would not fit aesthetically into our “space” in the woods.

While you’re at it, DuBrule-Clemente says, cut back on lawn. It does very little for native critters and is a pain to take care of. “Hardscaping,” such as walkways and patios, can provide access to hard-to-reach parts of the garden, and is less work to maintain than mulched or grassy paths.

She offered a creative, practical idea, especially if you are older, and things have gotten overgrown. Example: You planted some pretty tufted, striped grass a number of years ago; it has spread everywhere, and pulling clumps of it up is the only solution. Solution: Pair up with a young, inexperienced gardener, or someone with a new, naked property that cries out for plantings. Bestow your “largess” on them. They will be thankful, and so will you.

Both the Manchester Garden Club (and many other clubs) and DuBrule-Clemente agree one of the best things you can do with your garden—one that will bring you pleasure while helping sustain our planet—is to encourage diverse flora and fauna. Cultivate native plants and plants and flowers that attract pollinators like bees and butterflies; also, provide an inviting habitat for birds and other animals by giving them the things that they need such as shelter, food (including that found on plants), water and nesting material. More information can be found on the websites of the National Wildlife Federation and National Audubon Society. Strongly recommended is the book, ”Bringing Nature Home,” by Douglas Tallamy and Richard Darke. It’s a classic among gardening and conservation people.

At the end of the presentation, we were left with a great question: “Does my garden really have to be perfect? The answer: probably not — it’s up to you.

Now that spring is upon us, look for plant sales (many run by non-profit organizations), where you can purchase native plants and other things for your garden. The Manchester Garden Club holds its sale Saturday, May 17, 2014 at the Community Baptist Church in Manchester.

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