Garden Life: For gardeners, the list of chores never ends




I’ve been known to compare the upkeep of my garden to painting the Eiffel Tower. By the time I think I have finished the job, it’s time to start all over again. Despite the fact that I cut back wayward branches on the Japanese maples last year, there is always another tree or shrub to prune. There is grass to mow and leaves to rake. In my garden, there is never a season when weeds take the week off.

I was commiserating with a couple of friends about this very topic a few days ago. One has a large pond as a focal point in her garden. She is always dealing with pond-related issues. The other has to be hyper-diligent with watering all of her pots and planters in summer. Despite the different styles and sizes of our collective gardens, we can all agree that the work never ends.

In addition, I brought up the subject of writing a weekly garden column. With so many garden ideas in my head, there is always something to write about in each season. However, there are times when I am writing that I wonder if I haven’t already covered the conversation I’m having with my readers. I ask myself, “Did I just say that last year?”

To be honest, there are times I wonder if I said the same thing earlier in the same month. Surely I’ve talked before about my favorite perennial Black-eyed Susan or about pruning roses. Buying new plants that I haven’t tried before and then planting them to enhance my garden is always on my mind. Should I really remind my readers to rake the lawn in autumn? I know I repeat myself when I bring up the subject of planning before planting.

Fortunately, I have wise friends who care about gardening as much as I do. To paraphrase my dear friend Celeste Lindsay, who also writes a weekly piece for The Columbian: Don’t worry about repeating yourself when you write about gardening. Nature repeats itself every year. Nature teaches us what to expect with the return of each new season. Our job as gardeners is to learn what to do and when to do it in the garden.

So I continue to spend my days learning from my garden and then sharing what I have learned. I do remind myself every week that there are longtime gardeners out there taking care of established gardens that they have created. There are also brand new gardeners who are just beginning to garden. I’m sure that all of you have heard this before but I suggest you get out there and plant a Black-eyed Susan. While you’re at it, rake the lawn.

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Deciduous trees form a corklike layer at the base of each leaf as autumn sets in and days shorten. The corky growth slows production of chlorophyll, the chemical responsible for a leaves’ green color. This unveils the fiery colors produced by the leaves’ other chemicals, which include anthocyanin, xanthophyll and carotene. Carotene is the same fat-soluble pigment that adds the color orange to carrots.

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We’ve matured into our own style of gardening here in the Pacific Northwest. Although we might admire the English cottage garden or the French parterre, most of us have given up the notion of copying another country’s concept of garden style note for note, or should I say, plant for plant. We can appreciate garden manuals from other parts of the United States, too, but we no longer have to rely on their information as the only law of the land.

While planning your garden design, you want to bring your personal interests into the equation. With the right mix of bird feeding stations and nesting places, you can turn your property into a bird sanctuary. The neat and tidy gardener uses formal elements of design to give the garden crisp lines and structure in the winter months. Trust your instincts. The best gardens reflect the personality of the gardener.

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Years ago, a late planting of Brussels sprouts matured in my garden just as winter set in and snow began to fall. I remember how delighted I was at the charming surprise of a vegetable standing up to the winter weather. With one taste of the sprouts, I learned that a light frost improves their flavor. Harvest the sprouts from the bottom up, before the lower leaves yellow. Fresh Brussels sprouts are perfect for hearty winter soups and stew.

Robb Rosser is a WSU-certified master gardener. Reach him at