Larry Hodgson published thousands of articles and 65 books over the course of his career, in both French and English. His son, Mathieu, has made it his mission to make his father’s writings accessible to the public. This text was originally published in Fleurs, plantes et jardins magazine in July 1998.
July has always been vacation month here. We load up the car with sleeping bags and fly repellent and head off on an adventure… to the municipal campground next door, the one with the big green pool that’s always closed for renovations.
That’s all very well, but what do you do with your yard in the meantime? After all, no matter how long you’re away, the plants keep growing. What can you do to make sure they’re as healthy after you return as they were before you left?
What to Do With Trees and Shrubs During the Vacations?
Shrubs and trees are the easiest to deal with. With their long roots that can fetch water from deep in the earth, all you have to do is let them take care of themselves, that’s all.
What About Perennials and Annuals?
As for flowerbed plants, it’s not much more complicated. If you’ve applied an effective organic mulch, like all good, laidback gardeners, their roots are kept cooler and water evaporation from the soil is limited, reducing their need for watering. On the other hand, as they are still growing or, worse still, flowering, their water requirements continue to be quite high. So there are two things you need to do.
First, take the hedge trimmer and cut back a third of the annuals and perennials that are in bloom, in bud or not yet flowering. Run the mower, set to its highest setting, over the low plants. You’ll see, your sadistic side will take pleasure in such a massacre! It’s true that a lot of beautiful flowers will go by the wayside, but you won’t be there to admire them anyway, will you? And by deadheading perennials and annuals, not only will you reduce the amount of leaves that lose water through evaporation, but you’ll also delay the blooming of those that should have bloomed during your absence, forcing them to postpone their blooming until… your return from vacation!
Good Watering Is Important
Then water thoroughly, until the soil is wet to a depth of at least 10 cm. Don’t do it with a watering can – it’s too much work! – or even by dragging a hose with a nozzle all over the flowerbed, but with an oscillating or rotating sprinkler: the job then almost takes care of itself. Watering well before you leave gives your flowers a small reserve of liquid to dip into in case the weather turns dry while you’re away.
When you return, your flowerbeds, which admittedly looked a bit devastated when you left, will have recovered perfectly, will be healthy and in bloom again. They’ll probably be even prettier than before!
And the Lawn?
Now comes the big problem: what to do with the lawn? Watering is not a problem: in dry weather, a lawn goes into summer dormancy, only to green up again as soon as the rains return and cooler temperatures return. But what about mowing? It’s not that your lawn will die if you don’t mow it for three weeks (on the contrary, in hot weather, you should let your lawn go up… if you cared more about its health than appearances!), but a lawn that’s really too high signals to thieves that you’re not there. Of course, you can hope that the weather will already be hot before you leave, in which case the lawn will remain at its best. But that’s not always the case. So you need to find a way to mow the lawn… from a distance.
The dream of every laidback gardener is, of course, an automatic lawnmower that runs over the lawn every day to keep it looking neat and tidy, without you having to lift a finger. Such a mower does exist (yes, no kidding: I’ve seen it in action!). I’m sure, however, that in a few years’ time, we’ll be mowing our lawns exclusively with such machines. But what to do in the meantime?
The only obvious solution seems to be to hire someone to mow your lawn, or to swap mowing your lawn during your vacation for mowing a neighbor’s lawn during his vacation… as long as the dates don’t coincide. I’ll leave it to you to decide who to hire, though, because I’ve got another suggestion, one from a real laidback gardener.
Mow as Little as Possible
Throughout the spring, learn to mow your lawn as little as possible. This way, thieves will get used to seeing that your lawn is always a bit messy. By the time the vacations arrive, with the summer heat, your lawn will be growing more slowly anyway, and would-be thieves will put you in the “yet another person who doesn’t take care of his lawn” basket, and go to empty the homes of more meticulous homeowners who have a reputation for always having an impeccable lawn. Sad for them, I agree, but since someone has to get robbed (it’s the law of the jungle), it might as well be someone else!
Come to think of it, I’ve got plenty of tips on how to keep your houseplants in shape while you’re on vacation… I’ll probably come back to that some other time.
In the meantime, happy vacations… and rest well!