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It was an incredible two-week vacation in Yellowstone National Park and other scenic destinations. I saw bears, including the rump of a sow with her two cubs heading over a ridge, a lone wolf slinking across a meadow, enough elk and bison that sighting one or the other became almost like a drinking game. “Bison! Elk!” one of us would yell, and we’d each take a slug from our water bottles.

If cars were pulled off alongside the road and a park ranger present, it was a bear sighting. If cars were backed up in both lanes, chances were, it was a bison or two sauntering across the road. Although snow still cloaked the mountains and hillsides driving from the east entrance toward Fishing Bridge and Yellowstone Lake, some wildflowers had started to bloom, including bright yellow arrowleaf balsamroot, pristine blue lupine, woodland stars and yellow violets.

Still it was nice to come home, unlock the front door and drop the luggage. My wonderful neighbor Mike had mowed my front yard while I was gone, but I wondered what horrors awaited me in the backyard.

Spurge from hell — and its henchman Creeping Charlie — had overtaken my yard. My brick path was a tangle of both weeds in a death match. In some places I couldn’t even see the bricks. My beds and borders weren’t too bad, but creeping Charley had inched its way over the brick border and around sedum, daylilies and other plants.

Knowing I’d be gone, I limited my plant shopping earlier in the spring, skipping the hanging baskets and window boxes which are always thirsty. But I still planted a number of pots — a mix of terra cotta, plastic and resin.

All of my potted plants — except a few petunias — survived the two weeks. I’d used moisture-retentive potting soil in all of the containers to reduce the need for watering. I clustered the containers together nearer to the garage. Shade lovers were tucked under the eaves, while sun-loving plants were arranged to receive morning sun and afternoon shade. I watered everything deeply, making sure the soil (and terra cotta pots) was saturated.

Then I crossed my fingers and called it done. (Of course, you can always enlist someone to water your plants while you’re gone, too.)

Drip irrigation or sprinkler system set up on a timer makes watering your garden a breeze while you’re out of town. I chose not to use drip irrigation because my perennial garden is well-established and rain is usually enough to keep it quenched. Also, I didn’t want to court calamity if a water faucet or pipe broke while I was gone. So I simply watered beds deeply for several days before I left on vacation.

Vegetable gardens, however, require regular watering and maintenance. Weed and harvest in advance and remove diseased or dead plants. Mulching will help retain soil moisture and reduce weeds while you’re off jet-setting.

Ask a family member or neighbor to care for the garden in your absence and pay them in harvest. Then return the favor. Even if they’re not planning to leave town, pitch in and help with weeding or picking vegetables.

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Arts/Special Sections Editor

Special Sections Editor for the Courier

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