The Accidental Garden
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on April 1, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
It's confession time, friends, and after having been a teacher for more years than I want to admit, it is time I told you the absolute truth: I am not a gardener. Oh, I want to be, and I am spending hours and hours learning, but the truth is, everything that is growing in my yard, everything that is already beginning to bloom is purely an accident. Some of you have read my Aunt Bett articles, and you know that I am somewhat knowledgeable about ancient medicinal qualities of plants. For the most part, though, I don't have a clue about how to grow those plants. When I was a child, my mother gave me an area for a flower garden. I wanted blue flowers, and she got blue flowers for me, showed me how to plant them, and there they were: blue iris and blue spiderwort. They grew for years, and I didn't do a thing but admire my blue flowers.
When I had a home and family of my own, the house was pretty well landscaped when we bought it, my kids grew up with a nice big yard to play in, minus blooms, of course, until my uncle brought me daylilies from his daylily farm. So then I had daylilies. Nothing to be done about them, there they were and they bloomed and I did nothing but admire them.
One day my friend brought me a twig with roots on it. "I am not sure what this is", she said, "but it should not grow very big". Since I still had an empty yard, I stuck it in the ground close to the brick arches in front. And watched it grow, until suddenly one day the bark started peeling, and I was forced to look up this unusual phenomenon in an encyclopedia. Ah ha! I had a River Birch tree, right in my front yard. Purely accidental.
Another time the same friend brought me two twigs, long spindly things, and she said, "This is wisteria, just stick it in the ground and let it wind around something". OK. I grew up in the mountains, I was not familiar with wisteria, but I stuck one twig up against a clothesline post in the back yard, and the other I stuck against a broom handle in the front yard, since there was nothing else there to prop it against. So now I have two wonderful wisteria, they look like amazingly huge blooming lavender umbrellas throughout the month of April. Purely accidental.
One spring I noticed a little thing that looked like holly growing up against the back deck. I watched it for a year or so, and realized it was going to keep right on growing. It looked pretty nice back there since there was nothing but a few daylilies and one wisteria in the entire back yard, so I let it grow. Now that wonderfully shaped holly is about 20 feet tall. (See first photo above.) Who planted it, the birds? Well maybe. Purely accidental.
I look around now and I see yucca plants at various corners in my yard, and I remember that one of my husband's friends came to see us one Saturday and he had been cleaning out the ditch beside his home. He stopped by and asked if I wanted some yucca plants. I asked him if I had to do anything to them, and he assured me that I did not, but he had too many and was just ridding himself of the extra. He even planted them on each end of my back deck. And there they still grow. Purely accidental.
I have a huge redbud tree that will be blooming in a few weeks, it also started as a small twig, given to me by an elderly neighbor who had a wonderful flower garden at her home. She also gave me some coral bells, and some columbine back in the eighties, assuring me that all I needed to do was to plant them. They of course have spread into big clumps now more than twenty years later. All purely accidental.
The year before I retired from teaching, my uncle called and said he was going to sell his farm and wondered if I wanted any of the plants that had been there since my great grandparents lived there in the 20's. Well, of course I drove to Bardstown, KY and filled my car full of wonderful things. My uncle assured me that they would need no extra care. I brought home more daylilies, iris, hibiscus, black eyed susans, yarrow, mullein, and two evergreen seedlings.
I have become braver as the years rolled by. Watching my plants grow gave me enough confidence to try starting a magnolia tree from seed, since my thirty year old one was too big, too close, and had to be removed. Now I have a new 6 feet tall magnolia, much farther from my house than the first one. I have another holly, too, an accident of course, so I simply left it to grow where it is.
There are a couple of reasons for this very personal confessional. First of all I am just now learning Latin names for plants, thanks to my DG experiences; I am just now learning the importance of proper soil conditions, the do's and don'ts that entail gardening. I am enjoying all the learning processes, but they are no more important to me than are all my happy accidents of the past. The other reason for this writing is to also tell you how important it is to remember the history of your plants. I look at my red bud tree and think of Ms. Busz, who gave it to me when she was well into her 80's. I think of the yucca plants and my husband's friend who passed away shortly after he brought them to me. The hibiscus blooms every year just as it did for my great grandmother, and my daylilies will always remind me of my dear uncle. Gardens are very personal. Mine started as an accident, and I didn't know till now just how important accidents can be to our lives. I hope I will always remember how I happened to have an accidental garden.
This year, for the very first time, I am brave enough to plant roses that I purchased all by myself, I know the names of every one of them. And that, my friends, is not an accident.
(All photos are the property of the author.)
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