IT SOUNDS simple enough, if you read it in a book or in one of those merry articles composed (I have always suspected) by retired polo captains living in Antibes apartments, to "divide the irises" or the daylilies or the daffodils, and to prune severely the rambler roses (not the large-flowered climbers, however) and "remove" the suckers from lilacs and the seed pods from rhododendrons.
And of course there is much to be said for "tying up" or "tying in" everything from dahlias to clematis.
White sacks, needless to say, are useful for tying over bunches of grapes, to keep wasps and birds away, and shades, you hardly need be reminded, should be set over any number of flowers as they come into bloom to preserve them from too great sunlight (red-cupped daffodils, shell-pink crinums, certain chrysanthemums). And stakes are to be "set" for everything from tomatoes to gladiolus.
You will also "want to keep an eye on" various things.
You will want to keep an eye on the wisteria, so it does not pull down the trellis.
And yet I need hardly say that it does no particular good to keep an eye on these things, when what is required is a ladder, a brisk indifference to heights, and a set of arms and shoulders rated Grade 1-A or better.
These various stakes that are to be set, needless to say, must be available in numerous sizes (30 inches to 96 inches) and there must be some place to store them, since they rarely work well under the bed, behind the bookcases or under the serving tables of the dining room. Some, of course, like golf clubs, may be housed in tall old armoires or behind the draperies of the window on the hall landing, if you happen to be set up that way, and it is very like hunting Easter eggs to find them when you need them.
Labels are such an insoluble problem that most gardeners give them up within their first five years of despair, so they need not be thought of.
Recently I read somewhere that tall bearded irises had been used to cover a "trouble-free, sun-baked slope," and I expected to find on the next page the recommendation to use gentians and sternbergias for a trouble-free lawn.
At the gates of heaven the one thing that may get me in is the honest boast that never have I underestimated the labor, confusion, agony or expense of even the simplest gardening operation, nor led others into any such pitfalls as "a gay border of delphiniums edged with a collection of dianthus and sempervivums climaxed here and there with fat clumps of Madonna lilies and . . . " etc., etc.
When I say a lily pool with fishes and water lilies is the nearest thing to trouble-free gardening (once the trauma of getting the thing built is safely passed through), I mean it literally.
And when I warn against rock gardens, lawns, squiggles and curlicues, narrow walks, slender trellises, amusing little greenhouses, etc., I mean chiefly that I make a poor masochist.
Just recently I was stung by a remark on August exhortations about daffodils:
"Aren't you a bit out of sync?" he asked. "People can't get daffodils till after Labor Day."
That man does not know gardeners. Labor Day is, after all, only a matter of some hours away when we are well along in August, and the average gardener will be doing quite well if he gets round to daffodils by Thanksgiving. The gardener that is not hit on the head in August, on behalf of daffodils and tulips, is not going to think of them at all.
Until one has planted a few hundred daffodil bulbs, by the way, he has no idea what a bother it is. You think of a trowel and the small hole necessary and there's nothing to it. There really isn't. Until you trot out with several sacks of bulbs.
There are elm roots, maple roots. The earth is drier or wetter than you supposed. Cousin Will and his 34 children are arriving in a mobile home on their way from Monterey to Chilmark, with dog and complete list of the monuments of Washington.
Hurricane Agnes unexpectedly intervenes. The man is coming to clean out the chimney. United Parcel Service says you can go out to some wilderness to pick up the bulbs, they can't deliver them because of a strike. You agreed last April to spend the day of Sept. 12 on some awful public-spirited project, assuming you would never make it till then, and here it is. The office hates to ask, on such sudden notice, but would you be able to catch a plane in seven hours to Cheyenne, and by the way, there is some mix-up so would you drop by the bank and get some money and we'll straighten it out next week.
All these, and many, many, many, more such things are part of planting daffodils and of every other gardening operation.
You do not, you know, just "plant iris rhizomes 24 inches apart." With that act you also commit yourself to pulling out the bermuda grass, the bluegrass, the purslane, the chickweed, the plantain (I am one of those remarkable gardeners that has both purslane and plantain, which in wild nature are never found together, but are in my garden) 10 months a year.
All these things must be thought of. There is the additional problem that most gardeners are intelligent, and most intelligent people are lazy, in the sense they had rather do something else than sweat in a pair of welder's gloves while removing the 5-year-old canes of a climbing hybrid tea rose (the gloves protect the hands, all right, and nothing less than they will do; but one must expect painful thorns on all the rest of the body, and a good bit of confusion moving the ladder about, and one is virtually certain to discover a museum-worthy wasp nest during this operation, or else a young mockingbird fallen out of the next, and this is the usual time to step on the cunninghamia planted near the fence to be out of harm's way, or else the dog's hip, requiring a prompt judgment whether or not the vet's services are required).
Daffodils, peonies, daylilies, these are things as trouble-proof as any. In sync or out of sync, I commend them, never fearing the gardener will get round to them too soon in the year, or plant too many.