I was unavailable to garden for a few days, a matter of taking care of people before plants. When I got back out there, clippers in hand, the perennials seemed to barely notice my absence. That’s the advantage of normally spending an hour a day in the garden. Even when life throws a curveball and you have to dial back your commitment for a bit, the garden probably won’t mind all that much. An hour a day keeps things organized enough so that when you do come back, a little deadheading and conversation are all the flowers really need. This philosophy…no…”philosophy” is too high-falutin a notion to apply to my Wellesley garden. Let’s instead say practice, as in “keep trying.” Breathe. Try again. This practice applies only to non-obsessive gardeners with the patience for imperfection. Dig-in-the-dirt types like you and me. Garden-variety gardeners.
The garage border benefited from my gardening return. I started out with the daisy patch.
When gardeners first start to self-identify as such, it’s a beautiful thing. They look around their yards with excitement. They start noticing where the sun falls in patches all day and where the shade dapples, shaving a few degrees off the official temperature. They become conversant about frost dates. Then these gardeners make the mistake of looking through magazines and going on garden tours. Suddenly, the initial delight with their domain is dampened. They start referring to the spot where they were going to plunk in a few peonies and foxgloves as a “garden room.” They decide hardscaping must be done, expensive stone walls must be built, to provide “structure” to the space. The space? What happened to “the yard?” Once they start consulting a color wheel, you know any sense of spontaneity, joie de vivre, or just plain fun has gone to hell. Suddenly these gardeners are plotting out their plantings as carefully as their career trajectory. Once they start calling themselves “horticultural enthusiasts,” look out.
The once gardener, now horticultural enthusiast, insists the garden must adhere to a design principle, and all plants are required to fit in with an aesthetic. From the dig-in-the dirt gardener’s perspective, all this stress is completely unnecessary. A dig-in-the-dirt gardener isn’t out there to impress anyone. Yes, some law and order is desirable in the yard (although many dig-in-the-dirt types would vigorously dispute that). But what’s really happening out there is pure enchantment. The idea is to own your own garden and have fun with it. What do you want, magic or computer-generated directions plotted out on graph paper? I thought so.
I make my way over to a plant that has been a tremendous disappointment, the Echinacea Merlot. I brought it home from the garden center for its unusual dark stems, and because I thought that echinacea couldn’t do a bad turn. Because I have trouble with goodbyes, and because I give most plants two full seasons to prove themselves, Echinacea Merlot will be permitted to remain until fall. Then I will likely turn it straight out of Eden. If you happen to know the most foolproof echinacea, please drop me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and enlighten me. This is not my first echinacea heartbreak, but I’m willing to try to love again.
It’s great to be back in my own garden, but giving some of my garden time to Uncle Jerry from Dorchester was well worth the short absence. Uncle Jerry’s garden follows the design principles of pure exuberance. Always has. Right now he can’t get out there and tend it like he used to, but the blooms can still be seen from space. I dove in with my clippers and tamed the wild corners for him.
“This was always my relaxation,” Uncle Jerry said from his front-porch, from where he greets passing neighbors (and they’re always passing, to pay homage to the master and to get a look at what’s blooming). “If I came home and my day at work had been bad, as soon I started out here, all of that didn’t matter anymore.”
Now that’s a true gardener. That’s the kind of dig-in-the-dirt kindred spirit you give some of your gardening time to, in the kind of garden where there’s something new to learn around every corner.