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"The Simple Joys of Gardening," by the Whistling Gardener

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.
Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

It’s a good thing I am easily pleased, it doesn’t take much to make me happy - especially when I am working in the garden. Take this last week for example. Like most of us, I just tried to cram four months’ worth of gardening into one sunny week and while it was exhausting, it was also exhilarating. The joy of seeing the fruits of my labor are well worth every ache and pain I am currently experiencing.

It was a frenzied week to say the least. Once the sun came out, I was so excited that I couldn’t decide where to start working. I needed to weed, prune, fertilize, mulch, and of course plant some new plants. I ended up doing a little bit of it all despite “ping-ponging” from one task to the next. Surely none of you are so undisciplined. For me however, “multi-tasking” is my strong suit and at the end of the day I can get quite a bit accomplished.

In one of my shade areas, I cut off the faded blooms of the Oriental Hellebores, removed the dead twigs from the hydrangeas, trained up the new (and budded) growth of the clematis vines onto their respective supports, chopped the red twig dogwood to the ground (it will come back with vengeance), weeded out the remaining shot weed from between the flag stones, spread a light application of an all-purpose fertilizer, and finally covered the ground with a fresh layer of coco shells (which have a divine chocolate smell for several days and also repel the slugs from around my myriad of hostas).

I am thrilled to see how well my drifts of Acorus minimus are filling in between the stones (I think I will plant another dozen or so to make it look even more wonderful). The hostas are coming up like gangbusters with their tightly rolled leaves just starting to unfurl, unblemished from any slug foraging.

The most exciting event for me in this area is the return and confident establishment of my “Spotty-Dotty” Podophyllum. Like many of us “good” gardeners, I had tortured this plant by moving it around for several years while trying to decide where it’s final resting place would be, all the while constraining it to its original four inch container and often forgetting to water it properly.

While the casual observer might look at this behavior as plant abuse, any gardener worth his salt knows that this is the process we use to see who is tough enough and worthy to be entered into our gardens. If a plant can survive three years of being moved in and out of the garage or garden shed, then in it goes and usually it is so darn happy to get out of its pot that it just goes nuts.

I also spent a few days reworking my sunny mixed shrub and perennial border. At last count (and still not finished but of course a garden is never finished), I had incorporated about three dozen new plants that are going to look absolutely spectacular by summer. Just the anticipation alone of how this composition is going to look by August is a reward in and of itself.

Finally, in the spirit of getting organized, I purchased a “bucket caddy” to store all of my favorite hand tools, including the necessary appliances that a 70-year-old gardener needs such as knee pads, back braces, a bottle of Advil, and my trusty Felco pruners. At last, I only have to look in one place to find everything and that makes me very joyful.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA, and can be reached at

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