It's time to read and vote for your favorite article in the 2013 Write-Off Contest! The four finalist's articles are featured in the May 13 newsletter and can be found through this link. Hurry! Voting ends May 18.
With all of the excellent information at my fingertips, and all the knowledge I've gained over the years, I have a sincere question to ask. Why is my garden such a disorganized mess? And what keeps me going, year after year, despite the fact that it never quite lives up to the dream in my head? Why not just. . .give up?
I subscribe to several different gardening magazines. I love to go on garden walks and visit public gardens. I can't enter a home improvement store without wandering through the garden department, and usually come home with a few new specimens or packets of seeds to plant. I visit a couple of different gardening websites nearly every day. I keep a pile of seed and plant catalogs beside my bed, alongside my more serious reading. I have more resources available to me than any previous generation of gardeners. So why are there so many persistent problems in my garden? I have to believe the fault lies in myself.
My garden, I admit, is not all it could be. We bought our first home almost twelve years ago, and I've added new flower beds and expanded the existing ones quite a bit in that time. I've also tilled up an area for a vegetable garden, and established areas with strawberries and garlic. Somehow, the end result doesn't reflect the time, money, love, and pure sweat equity that have been poured into it. Maybe it is just a case of poor planning, or gardening ADHD. I never sat down and drew up a long-term plan for my flower beds. I bought first, and figured out where to squeeze them in later.
I love to photograph my flowers, and often post close-up shots on Facebook. However, when distant friends mention how much they'd love to see my gardens in person, I have to suppress a shudder. While individual blooms look stunning and simple on the computer screen, the overall effect of my patchwork plantings isn't quite as charming. I'd like to call it a cottage garden look, but it doesn't quite live up to the quaint groupings I associate with that term.
My vegetable garden is no better. Some awful variety of grass with burr-like seed heads hitchhiked in with the bales of straw I bought one year to mulch the garden, and got a firm foothold in my veggie garden. I just can't keep up with weeding it, despite employing every trick in my arsenal. By late summer, the grasses were thigh-high and sporting prickly seedheads that wove themselves into clothing, shoelaces, hair, gardening gloves, and the dog's fur. My husband suggested a year of covering the garden with black plastic and diligently using Round-up on everything that sprouts there. I know, though, that millions of those grass seeds are lurking in my soil. As soon as I till it up and plant again, they'll spring to life and vex the living daylights out of me all over again.
So why don't I just give up? Why not throw my hands in the air, and seed it all back to lawn, which would undoubtedly please my grass-obsessed neighbor.
I suppose the answer is that I don't garden to impress the neighbors. I don't garden to create a magazine-worthy landscape that consumes my every free moment. I don't garden for the end result.
I garden for the process. I garden because I love the quickening of my pulse when I see a beautiful bloom, and know exactly where it would look best in my garden. I garden for that first crocus that emerges in the spring, signaling that winter is drawing to a close, and my joints will cease to ache from the cold. I garden for the vases of peonies and bleeding hearts that grace my kitchen table all spring, studded with whatever else is blooming at any given time.
I garden because I love to set up a table in my basement in the dead of winter, and hang a shop light from chains, and watch a couple of dozen little tomato plants press their way through the damp soil and reach for the light. I garden for the scent of the herbs that I gather by the fistful, and the sensation of a ripe tomato bursting on my tongue.
I garden for the time spent with my kids, picking beans and shelling peas, and putting up quarts of frozen corn to last the rest of the year. I garden for the way my son hops out of the car and immediately goes to check his rose, to see how many blooms it has, and whether it needs deadheading.
I garden for the pleasure I get when I see my teenaged boy grazing his way through the herb patch, nibbling on sage and chives, and the memories it brings back of other adults panicking when they saw him, as a toddler, eating leaves in the garden. I garden for the experience of reading seed packets and catalogs with the kids, and deciding together what we want to plant in the garden this year. Dragon Tongue beans? Why not! Fish peppers? Sounds intriguing.
I garden for the butterflies that visit my flowers, and the bees that coat their fuzzy legs with so much pollen, I wonder how they can even fly. I garden for the hummingbirds that buzz around and seem to peek in my kitchen windows to see if they're being watched. I garden for the wonder and excitement that still lights up my boys' faces when I turn over a shovel of dirt, and they see fat earthworms squirming and twisting in the sunlight. I garden for the respect I see them developing for the earth, and the food we eat, and the living things that share our space.
My garden may not ever be much to look at, viewed as a whole. It may get shaggy and neglected during busy times of the year, and some of the plants I selected with such care won't survive my benign neglect. But in the end, it serves its purpose. Despite all the challenges it presents, I am calmer and happier because of the many little pockets of beauty in my garden. I'd like to think that my children are, too.
All pictures are my own. Please do not copy or use without permission.
About Angela Carson
I was bitten hard by the gardening bug when I was just a child, and have been doing my best to infect as many people as possible ever since! I particularly have a passion for spring bulbs and home-grown vegetables, which I am teaching the next generation how to preserve. My two sons have obviously inherited my interest in growing things, and my husband is starting to see the benefits of less lawn to mow, as long as he doesn't have to do the work of digging up new beds for my latest schemes!