Thursday, March 24, 2011

Gardens: Madness, Frustrated Hopes, and Cheap Sermons

Diane Ackerman writes,

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

And May Sarton writes,

It has to be accepted that gardening is a madness, a folly that does not go away with age.  Quite the contrary (At Seventy [NY: W.W. Norton, 1984], p. 49).

And they're both right.

The picture above this posting shows what has happened to our front yard this year, all unintended.  It has become a violet garden.  And we're not disappointed, but actually delighted, for obvious reasons.  In a totally unanticipated way, our madness in removing all of the measly grass from the yard a few years ago has suddenly paid off in a ground cover of violets.

With each passing year, our front yard has become more and more a shaded spot.  A huge silver maple on one side of the yard shades much of the area, and what it doesn't accomplish, a yaupon holly grown into a large umbrella shape finishes off.

And so grass simply won't grow there, not when it gets no light and has to compete with the aggressive, shallow, voracious roots of the maple.  When we began to realize this, I dug up all the grass and planted monkey grass in its place, thinking it would soon spread and cover the entire yard.

I was mistaken in my thinking.  The monkey grass has been puny in its growth, if tenacious.  And meanwhile, as we weeded out all intruders except the few violets that persisted in coming back after the grass was removed, the violets proliferated.

Last spring, my nephew Patrick kindly helped me dig up as many of these as I could, to put them into a bed in front of a fringe of ferns beneath the azaleas out front.  Somehow, the digging of the violets stirred them to a mad replication of themselves, possibly from snippets of roots Patrick and I left in place when we transplanted them.

And now the result is, as this spring arrives, that the front yard has been taken over by violets, which are beginning to bloom.  Our best gardens are frequently those we never intended to plant.  And our most carefully cultivated ones are not uncommonly our biggest failures.

Even if Verlyn Klinkenborg does rightly say, "A garden is so full of cheap sermons" (The Rural Life [Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 2003], :p. 172).

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