Monday, May 18, 2009

Life's (a) Garden

Everything I Need to Know I’m Learning From my Garden

This weekend the weather was gorgeous. It’s so much easier to get up on weekends at 5:30 when the sun shines through the window and the birds begin their symphony. Much easier than on weekdays. Go figure. I didn’t blog over the weekend because I was pooped. And sore. I worked on my yard. I didn’t have my I-pod on. I was listening to my brain instead. I couldn’t help it: I got philosophical about working with the garden as a metaphor for life.

As I was ripping out all the Lily Turf I had installed with the landscaping project it brought up frustration with myself. When I saw the plans the landscape consultant had come up with my gut reaction to the grasses was “hm. This isn’t really what I would have come up with. Ornamental grasses are not what comes to mind for an English Cottage Garden.” But I didn’t say anything then. Then when the installation happened I was disappointed. I looked at those grasses and I thought “I don’t like these” as I said to the landscaper “this is beautiful. I’m so happy. Thank you!”

The grasses looked especially bad after this winter. The shorter/smaller ones in the back yard were all dead (the ones in the front survived…I’m not sure whether that’s good or bad). I called the landscaper to report this. She said that this was a very harsh winter and several species did not survive and that while they didn’t replace plants for weather reasons she could get me replacements at cost and we could plant them together (i.e. she would have to pay her crew if they replanted them). That night I just ripped out all the dead ones and didn’t follow up with her. Because honestly, why would I replace them with more of the same that I didn’t like in the first place.

So last weekend I gave a hair cut to all the remaining Lily Turf to see if that would help them look better after their winter mange. The whole time I was clipping I knew that it wouldn’t help. I would not like the plants for my garden: not even with a Jean Juarez styling! I was kicking myself: about the plants, but also about the way I live my life. I hold back on my opinions. I don’t always trust my opinions. Which is stupid: they are my opinions. Opinions are not right or wrong. So why do I defer to others on what is “good for me”? Why do I have such a hard time saying “this is what I want” with any conviction?

On the other hand, I am a fixer. This weekend I started taking the Lily Turf out. What got me going was a trip to Flower World in Maltby. I had never been before but had heard great things about it from my friends who love to garden. So I decided to take a road trip to check it out. I was going to buy a new carpet rose to put in the corner of the bank that was looking a little empty since I took out the small decorative grass there that had died. Well, Flower World was like being at an all you can eat buffet and filling your plate so full that you can’t even consider the dessert bar which looks too good to be true. I had a cart full of shrubbery and perennials, enough to fill the back of the Mini (seats down) without even making it to the rose house. I selected shrubs with interesting color and leaf shape. I chose perennials that I missed from my old house (like fox glove and delphinium and stargazer lilies) and ones that reminded me of the village garden tour I went on in England a few years ago. I found the perennial geraniums that I loved there but had not been able to find here (they are not at all like the bright red, large waxy leafed annuals that are more common here). When I got home I placed them in their pots where I would plant them in the morning.

In the morning I rose early, before it got too hot, and after a nice walk with the dogs (I watched Mia for the weekend as well) I started planting. As I removed one Lily Turf after another to make way for the new plantings I began to see how much improved the overall garden looked with less Lily Turf. Pretty soon I just dug them all up and left them on a pile on the lower patio. It got to the point where I just didn’t want any of them there even if a new planting wasn’t going in.

And the analogies I made with my life are that:

-It’s hard to give up something without having something else to replace it. But once you finally start purging it feels so good, and then you just want to go there completely. In the end you end up with something much nicer than you had known possible. As in, it took me a long time to get up enough nerve to walk away from my former life, something that hadn’t seemed right for a very long time; after I had tried to convince myself that it was tolerable, and then trying to prune and fix up while knowing all along it would never be good for me. I finally got on to new and better things. Now I didn’t necessarily have great things at the time to replace what I was walking away from. It might have been easier if I had taken a lover to fill the empty spaces. At least in the short run.

-And weeding is something that doesn’t sound fun to do, like cleaning up one’s life. But the actual act of doing it is not near as bad as thinking about it. And the sense of gratification you get when doing it is actually good.

-Planting beautiful things, or trying new plants out to see what might survive, maybe going back to some old favorites that gave you satisfaction in the past: that’s a fun adventure.

-And as long as gardening makes you happy you don’t need to do it for anyone else but yourself. Though it’s OK to get a second opinion, as long as you do what’s best for you in the long run. And when people admire your garden it just feels really, really good, even if you primarily do it to please yourself.

-That it’s OK to make mistakes. It’s just plants. Try some new ones. If they survive they were meant to be. If they survive and you don’t end up liking them anyway, they don’t have to stay. You can rip them up and give them away. Or send them to the compost. A Darwin’s Garden (survival of the fittest) is a healthy garden.

-Some bugs are OK. Like lady bugs who eat bad bugs. And worms that aren’t too pretty but help with the soil. And if you have to resort to chemical means to keep things healthy then so be it. You aren’t a terrible person because you decide you need to use chemicals though consulting with a Master Gardener is a good idea. Just be careful how you use them.

-There’s a nice balance between order and variety. Too much of one and not enough of the other isn’t as nice as the sweet spot for the satisfying garden that has both.

-Consider many aspects for a pleasing result: color; scent; texture; contrast are all key considerations. If you focus on just one thing it doesn’t seem right in the end.

-Safety is a consideration: remove obstacles (like slippery, rotten stairs) that are likely to hurt you or anybody else who visits the garden.

-If a cat poops in your garden, hunt that cat down and kill it (or at least do all you can to discourage the cat from entering your garden). If you find cat poop where you are trying to work, take the shovel and fling it into the neighbors neglected yard.

-If your neighbor’s yard has gone to hell try to screen it and vigilantly keep up the weeding on the property line. On the other hand, it does have the affect of exaggerating how nice your own yard looks in contrast.

-Watering the garden may get monotonous but you can have the satisfaction of knowing that your efforts are keeping things alive. Don’t trust entirely that plans for watering in your absence will be carried out, but don’t let that fear of loss keep you from having your own adventures away from the garden. Realize anything lost can be replanted and will come back another year.

-Weeding is very important. The weeds grow three times as fast as the plants you are trying to nurture. That’s why they are considered weeds. It’s easier to keep up with the weeds if you make it a practice to do it regularly.

I could go on and on….and I guess I have. But really, it’s like the whole time I’m gardening I’m drawing parallels to what I’m doing in the garden and life. I’m not sure if this is better than listening to the I-pod. It’s certainly deeper and a little more “in the moment.” Hopefully at the end of the season I’ll be able to show you my beautiful garden (and life!)

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