Bronchitis and spring snowstorms have banished me from the garden. I’m stuck peering out of the window like some kind of gargoyle. My convalescence prevents taking a simple walk around the neighborhood to peek at other gardens, or meandering around my own backyard to a sunny spot to get a whiff of leaf mulch or rose hips.
I’ll be better soon. For now, winter needs to wrap up all this nonsense. I miss my garden. I want to hang out with it. We need each other. Why doesn’t everyone else take our love seriously? Why do they want to keep us apart? Here’s the part where I start singing I Got You Babe to the coneflowers.
Gardening is a relationship. They say we’re young and we don’t know, won’t find out until we grow. They’re right of course. New gardeners always leap before they look, choosing plants that will get too big for the space, that need a warmer or cooler climate, or need completely different moisture levels and soil pH. When you’re young you just follow your heart and do crazy things. Somehow the garden works out its end of the deal by gradually establishing balance if the gardener remains responsive without over-reacting. There is a certain degree of finesse involved in knowing just how much attention will nurture your partner, and how much will smother them. It takes long-term commitment to work it out.
Well I don’t know if all that’s true, cause you got me, and baby I got you.
Impulsiveness can bring failure in the garden, as in relationships. Time proves whether you have created a fiasco or a miracle. I’ve learned to respect plants, to spend more time watching them than fussing with them so they can teach me what they need. Over three years a randomly chosen Limelight hydrangea became the eight foot tall star of my front garden, while carefully selected rhododendrons dwindled to the status of ground covers under a large tree. Growing with the garden, I’ve learned more about the water demands of a large tree and the rigors of shade, and about dropping my expectations of a plant that wishes to be something other than what I wanted. Sometimes, you just have to let your darlings go.
A garden that is well-loved just glows with self-esteem. You can tell a designed and forgotten garden from an amateurish adored garden. I’ll take the latter every time, opting for the charm of imperfection and the surprise of naïve creativity over stellar design. The best gardens combine both. Someday I hope to have my cake and eat it too, but I will remain satisfied if that day never comes. The problem with creating a masterpiece is that it’s finished. It’s over. I want my gardening affair to go on and on forever. I love my garden and yes I want to marry it.
I’ve got flowers in the spring; I’ve got you to wear my ring.
I feel at home in the garden, like one feels at home in a good relationship. I miss the garden when the weather is bad and I can’t get out there; I miss the physical connection that keeps me healthy and sane. To a non-gardener, it probably sounds bizarre to say the garden reciprocates physically. The physicality is the joy of it, all the smells, textures, colors, and sounds. Touching leaves and stems, feeling sunlight warm your back, watching petal colors morph in the changing light, smelling aromas of freshly pruned wood; these are all sensual delights. And who are we to say plants don’t have sentience and enjoy the contact? They often behave inexplicably, much like humans. Sometimes they grow enormous despite their supposed genetic limitations, or simply fail to thrive for no discernible reason. They may not be people, but they are certainly living beings. In Journey of the Heart, John Welwood says “conscious commitment is a pact between beings, rather than between personalities.”
If you start a garden you are making a commitment, whether you intend to or not. You’re going to have to work out your differences with your soil and insect fauna and whatever else is beyond your control out there. You’ll have to compromise with the ecosystem in your yard and the weather conditions in your hardiness zone. Or you’ll just have to move, the gardener’s equivalent of divorce. But you know you want to stay. You know you’re in love.
Babe. I got you babe. I got you babe.
A good relationship teaches, challenges, and rewards. A good garden does the same. Relationships are the proving ground for all our unconscious whims, desires, and fears; also our unconscious genius, strength, and inspiration. The garden is an ideal arena for the full self to emerge. In the garden, as in love, growth is accelerated. When you work on the garden, the garden also works on you.