Saturday, June 15, 2013

Garden Rules: Imagined Gardens and Real Ones

Few things are begun with as much hope as a garden, and it can disappoint in direct proportion to one’s anticipation (Diane Ackerman, Cultivating Delight: A Natural History of My Garden [NY: HarperCollins, 2001], p. 32).


A garden always includes many smaller gardens. Indeed, no garden exists as a single thing. By its nature, it is plural, just as each person is a symposium of cells, or an arch is a strength made from many weaknesses (ibid., p. 57).

Diane Ackerman's right. I'm increasingly inclined to regard the several small gardens inside what I call "my garden" as annual experiments designed to teach me how to be patient, how to deal with disappointment and surprise, and how to decide when to concede and when to battle on. A case in point:

This year, as the mini-garden of daylilies surrounding the feet of a dwarf magnolia and a pear tree came up, I noticed coming up in their midst a bunch of Queen Anne's lace. Marvelous, I told myself. They'll look so pretty together, the muted orange chalices of daylily with the frilly white fans of Queen Anne's lace. This will be one weed I won't have to pull out this spring.

Famous last words: now what I discover, as the Queen Anne's lace begins to do its thing--as in, bloom profusely all through the daylilies--is that the daylilies are not blooming. They've been choked out by Queen Anne's lace, which is, after all, a weed.

Garden rule #1: That's what weeds are. They grow.

And so now I have a beautiful unplanned mini-garden of Queen Anne's lace, which will undoubtedly re-seed itself and come up again next year (it got here by some process of transmogrifying transmigration in the first place. I never planted wild carrots in my garden.) And the daylilies will either give up the ghost or have to be moved to a sheltered spot free of weeds, since nothing grows like a weed--though, challenged to think of bona fide plants in my garden most likely to grow toughly without any care of all, I'd have nominated daylilies for the top spot.

And so,

Garden rule #2: The imagined garden is never the garden that grows.


Garden rule #3: Some experiments fail.

Which leads to 

Garden rule #4: Even a "failure" is a result of a valuable experiment, and what the eye sees as failure can sometimes be success--

If framed in the flattering right frame, on a sunny summer morning heavy with the voluptuous scent of gardenia, abelia, and crepe myrtle lying across the warm morning breezes.

The photo of Queen Anne's lace is from Chris Weige's fascinating Reckon tumblr.

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