Thoughts On Gardening & Being Myself

I had the privilege recently of reading a garden review that a retired landscape designer had written about a private garden we had both visited just hours prior. The garden was jaw-dropping amazing, as was the review. Seriously. The review was just as lovely as the garden.

I love horticulture vocabulary. Physical layout. Site analysis. Colorful perennial entrance bed. Now that being said… As much as I can appreciate those features in another gardener’s garden, it just isn’t going to happen in my own. I garden for my personal pleasure, not to please the neighbors or to grace the cover of any formal garden magazine. You know the quote… Be yourself; everyone else is taken. That very much applies to me and my garden. I am myself. Quirks and all. Garden rules and design principles just bring out my inner rebel.

In all art forms, gardening included, there are standard design principles which can either be followed, challenged or completely and unapologetically tossed out the window. Horticulturalist Felder Rushing wrote the book on the latter two types of gardeners. Maverick Gardeners. What a great name for those of us who think – garden – outside the box. (A book review will be forthcoming. Spoiler alert: It’s a great book!) Indeed, one of Mr. Rushing’s radio program listeners came up with an apt name for just us gardeners: Determined Independent Gardeners. Determined and Independent I am. I am myself; everyone else is taken.

The only Unity – one of several horticulture design principles – found in my garden is that anything goes. My garden style could perhaps best be described as a mix of There Appears To Have Been A Struggle and Diary Of A Madman, with a touch of She Wanted It All. And I am good with that. It is me. And my gardens are a reflection of that.

Sequence, Simplicity and Rhythm – more horticulture design principles – may be goals of other gardeners. Drifts of three? I am more a “drift of one” gardener. Now a well-placed solo shrub or a lone large perennial can be considered an accent plant, but in my garden most every plant could then be considered “an accent.” Buying plants as “one of this and one of that” allows for more diversity and experiments, as well as more whimsy. (…I say…trying to justify my plant buying strategy…) I can often be found walking around the garden, plant in one hand, trowel in the other, searching for just a few bare inches of ground to squeeze yet another plant in. Some might say that I garden much the way a child would toss confetti at a birthday party. Reckless abandon. They wouldn’t be too far wrong.

I rarely photograph large areas of my garden, in part because it comes across as “busy,” too much to take in at once. Mine is a strolling garden, one to meander through, pausing to take in the details, reflecting on the story behind a certain plant or garden accruement. I also seem to always have some project going on, a wheelbarrow left out, junk trees popping up somewhere or garden hoses stretched across the property. (We don’t have a sprinkler system, which I am perfectly fine with. But more on that at a later date.) It also feels much too personal to show the garden as a whole, so revealing. It would be akin to me walking down a fashion runway in a bikini. Which isn’t going to happen anytime soon. (You are welcome.) But this year, I am challenging myself to stop and look at the larger picture and embrace it. Garden hoses, drifts of one and all!

The photograph below shows the front flower beds, much as one would see while out for a neighborhood stroll. The winecups (Callirhoe involucrata) and red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflor) are blooming quite nicely this week. But… If you look closely…

… You will see… A junk tree. (Photograph below.) To me, a junk tree is any tree that I did not plant, one that arrived in my garden via bird, squirrel or wind. The one shown below happens to be a pecan tree, compliments of our neighbor’s tree, planted by a squirrel who was sure they would have time to come back and retrieve the stored nut before it decided to set down roots in my garden. In addition to junk pecan trees, I constantly battle junk bur oak trees, planted by squirrels or gravity, and junk elm trees, which arrive via the wind.

Keeping the garden free of weeds is, as every gardener knows, an endless struggle. Keeping the garden free of junk trees is that times ten. I can walk the garden and dig out or cut down every junk tree, then turn around to find one that has grown knee high in the blink of an eye. At some point, all gardeners know this: The garden will never be free of weeds. Nature simply moves faster than any gardener ever could.

“Ignore the weeds,” I always tell garden visitors. “Oh, and ignore that hose.”

The garden hose is often stretched from faucet to whatever area I am working on that day, then most often lapped back around because there is no sense in only tripping over the hose once if you can trip over it two or three times. I am sure there is an app that removes garden hoses from photographs and, if not, there should be. Until then, my choices are to either coil up the garden hose prior to taking photographs, closely cropping photographs to remove any evidence of said garden hose or to make peace with the hose. I generally opt for the close cropping of photographs. Oddly enough, I wouldn’t think twice about a pair of pruners or a pitchfork being in a garden photograph, for all gardeners know and appreciate what a working garden looks like. But a garden hose left out? Not so much.

I am not sure where garden hoses and junk trees fit in horticulture design principles – perhaps Focalization? – but every gardener knows that… to every good garden weeds grow and garden hoses must be dealt with.

Keep Calm and Garden On, Uniquely Yourself.

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