Tuesday, April 26, 2011


I know lots about biting off more than I can chew (BOMTICC). My nearest and dearest will tell you I’ve raised the practice to an art-form. Coupled with a compulsive tendency that tolerates no unfinished enterprise, it’s a great recipe for frustration and, once in a while, disaster.

Rosa 'New Dawn,'
the "Mother's Day" rose,
 getting an early start
Take, for example, all the current garden projects in various stages of (un)completion chez Fitz. A domestic hiccup occurring last week and overflowing into this one put the kibosh on making progress on any of them. (Not to worry, we came out the other side of the hiccup hale and hearty. I will say this, though: this getting-old crap is not for sissies.) As the season moves along, the temperatures eke up a little every day. We’ve been taking outdoor showers since April 8th. After a restless, sweaty night, today we broke down and turned on the air-conditioner. I’m beginning to wonder if I have, once again, BOMTICC.

It all looked so simple on paper back in February, and there was just so much time before the energy-sapping heat set in. But, as usual where I’m concerned, way leads on to way. They loop back eventually, but critical momentum gets lost. Quick as you can say “Bob’s your uncle,” it’s July and I refuse to go out in that voluntarily. Even OCD has its limits.

A blue vignette:
Iris 'Contraband Girl,'
Baptisia minor &
Baptisia australis 

I find a backhanded sort of comfort, however, in the knowledge I am not alone.

On Good Friday, Tim and I met with one of the hardest-working people on the planet. Over the past several seasons, Barb’s been building an ambitious garden on the vacant lot next door (it’s okay—she owns it). She’s brought in and wheelbarrowed around three or more truckloads of dirt.  She’s dug about a mile of trenches to direct water to the drainage ditch she cleared and deepened across the back of the lot. With concrete she mixed, formed and poured herself, she engineered a sluice from the high ground to an underground drainpipe she installed herself. She’s built a low wall around what will be the centerpiece of the space, and hauled in the pieces of a ginormous fountain she plans to erect as its focal point. She’s also relocated full-grown crape myrtles and Burford hollies, built a decorative little coffer dam around a native tree with bricks left over from the construction of her house, and planted or moved about a hundred shrubs and perennials as screening and to rough out several garden rooms. Lacking an irrigation system, she waters by hand. I got worn to a frazzle just listening.

A close-up of California firecracker,
Dichelostemma ida-maia

So what does she need Fitzgeralds Gardening for?

Because she started out flying by the seat of her pants, without a plan. And now she has no idea exactly where she is or how to get to where she wants to go. She thinks she may have BOMTSheCC.

Let’s start with those hundred shrubs and perennials. A local garden center went out of business last fall (we miss you, Kelly): Barb took advantage of the bargain-basement prices and loaded up the SUV, several times. To her credit, she got every plant in the ground, in a kind-of pleasing arrangement. But when they grow up—and they will grow up, given enough water to establish—they’re going to be one ugly, tangled maintenance nightmare.

Clematis 'Bonanza,'
one of the Evipo hybrids

To her credit as a gardener, she already suspected that was the case. We urged her to simplify, and gave her some ideas with that end in view. The first and most importantly, she needs to trust her instincts and her eye, because both are primo. Second: install drip irrigation, preferably before summer really roars in. Once a professional installs a valve and a pigtail-pipe, it’s easy to stake out the dripline and emit it herself. Third, attend to the hardscape she has in mind—an elegantly curved paver-path connecting the driveway to the centerpiece garden’s entrance, clearly demarcated by a gate and a few fence sections. The pavers will also sweep along the side of the garage in to the side door and out again to meet an existing path exiting the backyard. A mulch walkway incorporating a few long slope-negotiating steps will wend through the other garden rooms in a roundabout fashion to hook up with the pavers again. Barb and I both could see it complete in our minds’ eyes, and it is beautiful.

With the hardscape in place, it will be easier to see which of the too-many plants can stay, and which should head to the Great Compost-Heap in the Sky. Definition shapes a space: without it, all you’ve got is a mess of plants.

The pea patch in flower
(Pisum 'Wando')

The most important thing we said, though, is Tim’s famous dictum—be an ant. Move one grain of sand/thing at a time instead hurting yourself trying to juggle an impossible number of them (a.k.a. BOMTYouCC). Your anthill/garden will get built. Barb already knows this, of course. It’s a truth I too-often fail to take to heart myself when bubbling over with ideas, visions and enthusiasm. (As my former husband the lawyer used to say, “People never take advice they don’t pay for.” That’s why Tim and I charge for giving consultations. Thanks, R.)

Here’s an example of incipient BOMTYCC. Two of our once-upon-a-time clients, whose original new-construction landscaping Tim and I designed and installed a decade ago, labor long hours enhancing and maintaining their lovely property. Like us, they’re not getting any younger; some tasks just aren’t as easily accomplished as they used to be. Tim’s always saying condo-living looks more and more attractive as the years flit by. Bill’s starting to agree. I know that if you argue for your limits, you get to keep them, but seems like wisdom to not work yourself to death either.

Shelling-pea pods
filling out
(Pisum 'Alaska')

Two other stories involve near-occasions of BOMTYCC. (I wasn’t raised Catholic, but between my college roommate Tina, my friend Eydie, and Tim, I’ve absorbed a lot of the jargon. What a way with words! While at university, I briefly entertained the notion of conversion: Tina taught me that the Church has an answer to every question. Maybe not a good answer, but an answer nonetheless. At that point in my life, that certainty intrigued the hell out of me. Not to worry—now I’m totally content to not know the answer to anything.)

Back to the topic. The first near-occasion occurred when we got a call from a courtly old retired doctor from Southport. His wife had had a potentially award-winning garden drawn by a designer she’d met on a plane (go figure), and wanted someone to put it in for them. Installed as drawn, the garden would have been drop-dead gorgeous on the lot backing up to the Intracoastal Waterway, except…

a) there was no way to maneuver even a small Bobcat into the backyard site for clearing, spreading dirt, or transporting the several requisite tons of stone and mulch, not to mention all the plants: all such labor would have to be done by hand and wheelbarrow—ka-ching! and

b)  the level of maintenance necessary to keep the garden looking good was problematic. When Tim enquired who would be in charge of that aspect, the good doctor (pushing 80 at the time) said he couldn’t do it physically, and Mrs. Doctor said she never goes outside in summer because it’s too hot and there are too many mosquitoes. (No lie about that last. T and I dubbed the area The Biting-Insect Capital of North Carolina: believe me, state-wide competition for that title is intense.)

Blueberry blooms
(Vaccinium 'Elizabeth,'
one of four cultivars
in my front-yard patch)

In the end, the vision of the enormous and eternal expense of installing the garden and then paying someone with leather-like skin to keep it in some semblance of order brought the whole project to a screeching halt. Going forward with it would definitely count as a case of BOMTTheyCouldC.

Today’s final case of BOMTYCC is also archetypal of how Tim regularly talks us out of income by telling the truth. Because we’re fastidious in our work habits and in love with the job (and also because we won’t work for people we don’t like), we  usually become friendly with our clients. If they can help it, friends don’t let friends BOMTTCC. When invited to have their yard showcased in a local Garden Tour, some client/friends in turn asked our thoughts on the matter. At first T and I were excited by the prospect: prepping for tours has been lucrative for us in the past. It is also damned hard work. After a brief, internal struggle between the businessman and the friend, Tim said to Mr. D, “My business side wants to encourage you to go for it. We’d make a good buck and you’d get the accolades. On the other hand, as your friend, I have to advise against getting involved. Getting ready for a tour is a lot of work inside the house as well as out. It’s expensive. It’s always too damn hot on the Tour days. And most importantly, you don’t actually have a garden. You have a very nice, healthy, pretty yard, but nothing as focused as a garden.”

First ripe strawberries!
(Fragaria 'Chandler')

“Good,” says Mr. D, obviously relieved. “We’ll write a nice check to the beneficiary instead.”

I guess the moral is, be careful about the size of what you bite off. And if you do BOMTYCC, think like an ant. It’s okay if you spit out some of that mouthful for now. If it’s important, it all gets masticated in the end.

More pix from around the yard here, four of flowers, four of edibles. Golly-gee, I love April in North Carolina!

Thanks for dropping by, and for hanging in with this looong post.