Some rants nearly write themselves. If you garden in a blended household,  I know you understand, and I just want you to know you’re not alone. I see you.

My darling husband of forever years is not a gardener. For years I used to quip that his idea of working in the garden was cleaning the garage with the door open. Although I will say, as a graphic designer he is excellent at suggesting where paths should go — and he’s very good at lifting heavy things.

Then he discovered the (read: my) weed burner – a long wand with a little attached propane tank. With gravel surfaces throughout the garden, it’s a handy weed-dispensing tool. I call him the weeding monk as his love of this tool (read: fire) has taken on a life of its own that he pursues with the devotion of daily prayers. Sadly, his efforts are focused on the driveway, sometimes extending to the neighbor’s driveways, and not the gravel pathways of my plot. Which at the end of the day is probably a good thing, given his stubborn lack of understanding about the physics of a heat halo that extends beyond the little blue flame. Boxwoods with scorched ankles don’t lie.

Don’t get me wrong, he sees how hard I work and at times he even “helps” with weeding. Unfortunately, what he deems to be weedy is generally a choice perennial, you know, the ones that used to come with distinctive blue plant tags. Sometimes, tears are shed.

Crabapple in winter

‘Evereste’ crabapple in winter.

He’s quite good with the extension hedge pruners when it comes to tidying up the pleached crabapple hedge — living proof that even an experienced gardener (read: me) can seriously blunder in her estimate of the burden of maintenance. Careful what you wish for.

Recently we worked like a well-oiled arboriculture team, pruning the witch hazel in the front garden whose limbs were tangling with the shade umbrella on the deck… and the arborvitae hedge… and poking people in the forehead (but only those who were taller than me, so how was I to know.) This time we employed the extension loppers and pruning saw. Now that I think about it, it’s possible my garden has simply grown beyond my reach. Using a long bamboo pole I directed his every cut.

witch hazel

Spidery ribbons of blooms on the witch hazel in winter

And while it was decades ago, I still remember the shock of a fine June day when he cut the wisteria hanging over the back stoop to bare wood. No doubt the rapacious vine was tangling with all who passed under its canopy, but I had to explain that “buying time” between pruning by butchering a plant is unacceptable. Lucky for him it was Father’s Day, and the children were underfoot.

The kids are grown and long gone, navigating gardens with partners of their own. I don’t have the heart to tell them that this is a lifelong journey—there will be storms.

dwarf iris

‘Valerie Finnis’ dwarf iris.

Recently the neighbors hired a crew of arborists to cut back the Leyland cypress hedge on our shared property line — even I know enough to not plant that mistake. I’m grateful that we didn’t have to prune our side, although that is why we bought the extension pruner last year. All we had to do was sign a waiver and remove anything that might be damaged by falling branches. Now I know how lucky I am to have serviceable space in the garden where I can tuck tools and discreetly stash out of season plants — like nestled at the foot of that Leyland hedge. Those pots of “dried-up dirt” held bits of my beloved bulb collection. *sigh*

Thankfully, my treasured container filled with Iris histrioides ‘Katherine Hodgkin’ and Tulipa polychroma didn’t get dumped out. I think mulching with oyster shells might be our new shorthand for “I’m not dead yet.”

winter blooms of iris unguicularis

The blooms of Iris unguicularis make an unexpected but welcome cutflower in deep midwinter.

This gardening season has been complicated by back issues and limited mobility. I’m fine, no really, I’m fine and I look forward to being on the other side. But in the meantime, it’s time to sow hardy annuals that love a good winter chill, divide the Iris unguicularis and relocate the bearded iris. And those new bulbs probably aren’t going to plant themselves. It appears that this is the year that my other half is going to learn how to sow, dig and divide, and plant. I’m so lucky to have him.