My husband is a ‘putter-er’

Jeff is on vacation, so today’s gardening column has been submitted by his wife who he coerces into filling in for him periodically.

By Leabeth Abt


My husband is a ‘putter-er’. Now, lest you double check the section of the newspaper you are on (thinking you’ve somehow wandered to the sports page), let me clarify. I am not referring to golf. Many hard working Americans unwind to the day’s responsibilities and stress with a round of golf- that wonderful game requiring the player to, periodically, ‘putt’, using a ‘putter’, making them a ‘putterer’. No. This is not about golf. This is a treatise to the secret of good gardening.

Any of you who know me personally or who have followed Jeff’s weekly column for any length of time will undoubtedly wonder why you should heed my advice on gardening or assume I know any ‘secrets’. I am indisputably not a gardener. It may even be argued I am a threat to gardening. Not only do plants not flourish and thrive in my care, but a landscape would, conceivably, wither and perish quickly were I not commanded to ‘leave it alone’. I forget to water. I overwater. I cannot distinguish a valuable seedling from an emerging weed. And I struggle to remember the names of the plants in our garden (common names! not the scientific names which I don’t even try to learn). Actually, I think this lack of personal attention (i.e. knowing the plant’s name) is sensed by the garden’s occupants; and in that atmosphere of laissez faire, they cease to want to go on living.

But I do love the results of a carefully planned, well cared for garden; and so, I have studied Jeff to discover the secret to good gardening. The conclusion I have come to is to just let Jeff do it because the basis of being a good gardener is the inclination to putter in the garden. I am, unfortunately, a die hard spectator in this respect.

Let the experts pick the plants. Let the professionals lay out and plant the garden. You can still be a successful gardener if you are willing to putter. How much puttering and how often you can putter will determine the landscape your professional will choose for you. One thing I have definitely picked up from being married to Jeff is that there is no such thing as a maintenance free landscape. After all, even if you replaced your lawn with concrete, you would need to periodically do a little maintenance. Remember the Will Smith movie “I Am Legend” and how quickly nature reclaimed Manhattan?

So, what is puttering in the garden? Regular walking the property. A well-planned garden invites one into it anyway, so puttering is merely getting in the garden on a regular basis- morning, evening, daily, weekends, etc.

Ah, but what constitutes successful puttering? I will often sit in our walled side garden. The evenings are wonderful times to enjoy a cool drink and listen to our neighborhood bard owl call his parliament into session. But I am not puttering.

So, what does one do to turn a visit to the garden into profitable gardening? The irony here is that I actually had to stop at this point and ask Jeff, “What are you doing when you putter?”

Here is his reply. Puttering is all about observing, looking and really seeing what is going on in the landscape. This leads to pre-emptive action for all the major problems. Pulling a weed (the unwanted plant) at its early, seedling stage is an easy and even pleasant task. A matter of minutes as you walk your garden renders it weed-free. Noticing a dry spot or general dryness and the gardener quickly alters the watering schedule to avert a disaster. Is there any yellowing of leaves? A light application of fertilizer is needed. Are unwanted visitors in the garden? Pesticides and insecticides used as soon as evidence presents itself prevents infestation. Frequent dead-heading of spent blooms is no longer a half day’s chore. These are things a putterer does continuously, almost mindlessly. It is not work.

Finally, a putterer notices when a spot in the garden becomes uninteresting. A quick trip to the neighborhood nursery and a new plant joins the landscape, bringing with it bright color, interesting texture, height, or fragrance. A garden combines many elements to become a living entity.

The best gardens, even those you think look ‘natural’, have the touch of a human. Former President L. B. Johnson said the best fertilizer is the footprint of the landowner. So, get out in your garden and putter.

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