A gardener’s late-May to-do list

I am not a list writer, but I wish I was. Lately, every time I go out into the garden I feel pulled in so many different directions that I’m sure I look to the neighbors like a shooting gallery bear bobbing up and down and back and forth. It has occurred to me that if I just brought a notebook outside to write down all of the things that I want and need to do in the garden, I might not feel like I had to accomplish every single one of them right this minute. List writers seem better able to prioritize.
There are certain things I want to do, like finish laying stones for patios, pathways, and edges around the garden. I want to plant containers and arrange them artfully on the back deck. I want to buy more plants to plant in those containers. Or dig some up. But first I need to clear space on my potting bench. And then I probably should repot all of the root-bound houseplants I plunked on the deck last week in time for a little rain to wash off their dust and insect honeydew.
And ever since it rained, what’s left of my lawn needs mowing again. But before I can do that, I have to pick up the piles of weeds I’ve left at intervals in great heaps. Because, wouldn’t you know, despite my best efforts to over-plant my garden and crowd weeds out, they too have responded to the rain and grown. I blame them for distracting me from all of the other things I want and need to do.
Like plant shopping. Now that the nights are warm it’s safe to plant tender perennials and annuals. They’ll be so much happier out of their nursery pots and growing in the garden so I’ll really try to get to that next. Right after I cut most of my mid- to late-summer and fall-blooming perennials (such as aster, boltonia, phlox, anise hyssop, beebalm, Montauk and Shasta daisies, rudbeckia, and tall sedums like ‘Autumn Joy’) back by a third to a half. It takes hard-core optimism to behead growing plants. But nipping apical meristems generally signals plants to branch into much bushier, sturdier clumps. Flowering, particularly for anything that blooms as soon as July, might be set back a week or two and some plants’ flowers will be smaller, but there will be more of them and the plants will be less likely to splay open under their flowers’ weight.
I’m sort of proud of myself for remembering to add this task to my (mental) list—some years I have kicked myself come August, when the perennial sunflower, Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ blooms practically over my head and falls over. In the UK it’s known as the Chelsea Chop because the timing coincides with their world famous flower show. Since that event is, alas, not always on my late-May radar, I’m in need of my own alliterative reminder. Maybe I’ll call it the Lilac Lop or the Sneeze Snip…
I should probably also add “stop” to the very top of my to-dos. Just today, looking out my living room window, I noticed my beach rose (Rosa rugosa) beginning to bloom and I determined to stick my nose in it for my first real whiff of summer. But before heading out the back door I pocketed my pruners and weeder, just in case. And by the time I made it around to the front where the rose lives, at least an hour had passed and I almost forgot why I went outside in the first place. So I hope you take a lesson from my lapses. Write a list and don’t forget to put the most important tasks at the very top: Stop. And Enjoy!

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