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 pan 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.