A Love Letter to my Garden

It all started with a breakup and a new apartment. My beloved cat Fred would be alone with no other people or cats for the first time in his life. The apartment had big glass doors in the main room, and beyond the door grass stretched all the way to the next unit’s parking lot. I decided to get Fred a bird feeder so he would have something exciting to watch while I was at work.

The feeder looked so forlorn on its own that I decided to plant a few flowers. The flowers looked so pretty that I decided to get more flowers. Then I started bringing home whatever caught my eye at the garden store. I didn’t know anything about gardening. The next year when some things grew back, I was amazed. Plants doubled in size, vanished or regrouped. The variety of birds, squirrels and toads who visited was confounding for a four foot square piece of ground in the city. Something magical was happening. Fred had cat home theater, and I discovered my most delightful addiction.

I do not use the word addiction lightly. I’m writing this because it is winter, because I cannot plant or weed or have a glass of wine on the patio. Because I’ve already bought my seeds for spring, laid out the vegetable patch, planned which shrubs to prune and which to benignly neglect, and crammed more bulbs in the ground than any sane landscape could abide. I can’t wait for spring. If I keep writing about it, I’ll start foaming at the mouth. I can’t wait to see what comes back with a bang and what comes back with a whimper. I can’t wait to change everything again. The garden is never finished, never complete. It is a continual work in progress. I love it because it is so impossible to grasp.

If you know me, you are shocked by these words. Normally, I like things to be in order. I like to know what the plan is for the day. My husband says grocery shopping with me is like “the invasion of Normandy.” But the garden follows its own rules, and plants will live their own lives regardless of my plans for them. Sometimes they get too big, or they fail to bloom, or they turn out to be the wrong color, or they just up and die. Everything I plan for the garden falls apart. And I’m fine with that.

I love the garden precisely because it teeters on the verge of chaos and disaster. Plants are alive and you cannot treat them like furniture. You cannot plan a garden the way you would plan a room or an outfit. You have to work on the edge of disaster and chaos. The edge is where miracles happen, where uncertainty opens myriad doors, windows, secret caves, treasure chests, and Pandora’s boxes.

Since Fred’s bird feeder garden I have moved on to the larger space of a house. When I met my husband, we started landscaping his neglected and abused suburban lot. It was a sad place where the previous owners used a section of the back yard as a garbage dump and “planted” plastic shrubs in the front. This is the garden I have rehabilitated and grown to love. There have been other gardens, but those were merely affairs; I knew I would be leaving them when the lease was up. This garden has worked on me and taught me as I built it. It has given me a space to remember who I am. It has seen me fail and forgiven me. This is the garden I will grow old with.

14 thoughts on “A Love Letter to my Garden”

  1. This is how I imagine growing and loving a garden would be. I am so excited to read more, and have you help me design my secret garden!

  2. Love your blog Joanna – will be back to follow your adventures! Enjoy the journey in ‘Nature’s Classroom’ – it’s a humbling, joyous, empowering, fascinating, frustrating and addictive experience.

    • Thanks Microgardener, I enjoy your blog too! You’ve described the journey perfectly. And it’s all about the journey, not the goal, don’t you think?

      • Yes the journey indeed! Our gardens are a place to celebrate daily successes (new baby beans being born, harvests of home grown produce we bring into the kitchen to enjoy, new growth, seedlings emerging and much more) as well as to learn lessons from our ‘mistakes’ … I like to think of them as learning opportunities and times to reflect on how we can adapt to nature and work better together. Who cares about a few ‘dried arrangements’ from time to time anyway? They can always be composted!

  3. It is funny how a break-up can start (or re-kindle) a passion for gardening.

    I went through the same in late 2010. I have always liked plants, but let life, work, and my then-girlfriend occupy my time on other things. After the relationship, the nurturing side of me needed something to care for, plants proved to be the answer, one Avocado plant, led to a patio full of variety, color, joy, and happiness.

    I really enjoyed reading your post and congrats on such a lovely garden space!

  4. we are kindred spirits! glad to have found your blog.

  5. I’m recently hooked, and I agree! It’s a very good thing for learning that you can plan all you want, living beings have plans of their own. Thanks for your post!

  6. Wow, you are both a good gardener and a great writer!. Do you vegetable garden too? I’m a rather inept gardener. I do great with the easy stuff like chard and kale, but tomatoes have failed, in spite of my “blight buster” solutions, and my broccoli bolted and never came back.

    • Thank you, and I do grow vegetables, they certainly are more challenging. Keep trying! Plant your broccoli in August maybe, or try your tomatoes in containers with sterilized potting soil. I think chard is the bomb-so easy!

  7. A romantic ode to gardening, I like it! I was a little repelled at the idea of ‘planted’ plastic plants ahhh! I can relate to this post and look forward to reading more.

  8. wow!nice .

  9. I love your words: “You cannot plan a garden the way you would plan a room or an outfit. You have to work on the edge of disaster and chaos.”

  10. I love the home theatre for my cat bit! Garden looks very sweet!

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