Management by Walking Around is a way of life in many businesses and professions. During all of those years teaching, I walked around and around my classroom many times each day, armed with a pen and notepad, listening, and observing my students. I answered a question here, wrote a quick note for someone else, checked homework, and kept an eye on notebooks and computer screens. Walking around allowed me to interact quietly and personally with each child, to offer quick praise as well as quick re-direction as problems arose.
The same approach keeps me in touch with my garden. Things change so quickly, especially when it’s hot. The garden is never the same one day to the next, and every perambulation brings surprises. This week the Rose of Sharon shrubs began blooming for the summer. Each day another bush or two burst into bloom with its special color and form of blossom.
I usually wore a jacket, when teaching, with ample pockets for pens, paperclips, hall passes, Jolly Ranchers, and a notepad. Now I have a gardening vest, actually a Bean fishing vest, covered in pockets of all shapes and sizes. I always carry clippers, and twist ties or twine. My pockets also hold a handful of Moonflower seeds harvested in late winter, a few stones for pushing into vole holes, and of course my cell phone. I carry a long skinny trowel with a cutting edge which can accomplish a million small chores, from a quick transplant or division to filling in a hole.
Even a quick trip out to water a few pots shows me that more attention is needed here and there. A heavy stem of coneflowers needs to be staked. Roses need to be cut back where yesterday’s bloom has lost its petals. A vole tunnel needs to be stomped down flat, and the hole filled with gravel. Ten minutes quickly stretch into an hour or more, and time passes unheeded as I’m absorbed in the unfolding life around me.
I saw two golden and red skinks this late this afternoon as I watered the basil. They expected me to keep going around the house, and I surprised them by turning around before they could skitter away. How they have grown since they first appeared weeks ago. They happily live close to the house where they can sun themselves and always find a drink of water. I mostly hear them running behind pots or under vines. Today I was honored that they didn’t run from me.
Walking around, daily, shows me problems when they are small, and can be remedied with just a little effort. I can cut back the spent blooms of annuals, pull a few blades of grass taking hold in a bed, tie up new growth on a Clematis vine, prune a lantana branch away from a rose, pinch back the growth of Chrysanthemums and Coleus to make them grow bushy. My tour yesterday showed me that deer had hosted a party in my garden the night before and made a buffet from a hydrangea and even a Persian Shield, which I thought they were supposed to ignore. Time to spray again with Plant Skydd, and move those pots to a safer location.
Miss a few days of the daily walk, and things can definitely get out of control. A fast growing Zinnia can fall across a path and begin growing horizontally. A new family of voles can move in and tunnel up a whole patch of ground where they think they can’t be seen. A fungus can infest the leaves of a rose, and a pot left sitting in rain water can steam in the summer sun and cook the plant inside. A garden needs to feel the gardener’s touch every day.
There is research I recently read which shows that plants actually respond to our attention. They know when they are being admired, and react with fear (according to the scientist who hooked up sensors to a plant’s leaves to measure this) when they are about to be cut back. Just like us, they enjoy attention and respond to admiration by growing faster and stronger. A walk of appreciation, where you notice the blooms and new growth on the plants in your garden; where you see each plant as an individual and tend to its needs; makes a difference in their growth and health.
So the need to water in the cool of the morning is usually enough to tear me away from my coffee and morning news programs to suit up and head out into the garden. Once outside, watering leads to weeding. Flowers and vegetables are harvested while it’s cool. Supports are adjusted, flowers are sniffed, butterflies watched, photos snapped. On very special days, our hummingbirds will fly over to play in the spray of my hose. One small chore leads to another, and in no time at all I realize the sun has gotten very hot, and it’s on towards noon. Management by walking around brings me out each day to appreciate, assist, and learn something new about life in our forest garden.