What does your garden say about you? I’m reading a book that made me consider my own garden. It could do the same for yours. I wrote about the book in such exuberant and joyful terms on Facebook that several friends ordered it. I see it’s now a bestseller on Amazon. Great minds and all that.
Gardens of Awe and Folly: A Traveler’s Journal on the Meaning of Life and Gardening, by Vivian Swift, is part travelogue, part history lesson. It’s not a how-to book, which is fine by me. I pretty much know how to garden at this point–I can see you laughing–although I can always learn something new. It’s not a plant list book either. In fact, in Swift’s opening she writes:
“If all you ask of a garden is What?
then all you’ll probably get in reply is a planting list
But ask, instead,
Why? How? When? and, most of all, Who?
and then you’re in for a nice, long conversation.”
As Winnie the Pooh might say, Swift’s book made me have a big think.
Gardens reflect their designer’s personalities especially if the designer is the gardener, or if you work with someone who really listens. After years of hard work, my garden shows the dichotomy of my personality. It not only reflects my inner self, but also, shows my growth as a gardener. There’s tension in its duality. Before you think I’m bipolar, let me explain.
In my heart of hearts, I am a free spirit. I adore art that is fluid with great movement. Yet, I don’t like most modern art because it stresses me out. I love billowy, Boho, fashion, but I’m also attracted by a distinct sense of order. I’ve often thought that’s why I’m Catholic. Catholic art and ritual makes my heart sing with pure joy, and its rules give me parameters I try to live by tempered by God’s mercy.
I like to explore, but I also like coming home.
Chaos both attracts and repels me. My back garden’s straight lines and its original design reflect my desire for order. While I enjoy the neutrals of green and brown, I also like bright colors that don’t fade in our harsh summer sun. There’s my Bohemian side again. My garden is probably the best visual representation of what goes on in my mind. It’s busy in here.
As I’ve grown older–I’m 53–my mind feels more cluttered than it did in my 20s and 30s. Yet, I’m also more at peace. I’m no longer trying to raise my children, and I have more time to consider priorities. I also don’t care about what others think of me quite so much. That’s very freeing. The 50s are a great time. Still, my brain is a cluttered space and often feels like a hard drive that needs a defrag.
If only it were that easy–
In winter, or early spring, you can clearly see the layout of the garden. It’s all right angles, triangles and diamonds. I think it’s beautiful especially when there’s snow on the ground, or in spring, when everything is just beginning to awaken.
I love the structure. I also like the feeling of small rooms within a larger space. Plus, the lawn–all natural and unwatered–flows away from the enclosed garden and down to a pond. I’d like to tell you I planned it this way. I didn’t though. I just wanted the garden close to the house because it was a kitchen garden, and we carved the it out of the lower pasture. One thing I’ve learned is if you want your garden well-tended, place it close to the house so you see it whenever you look outside. You can’t help but feel the need to work in it.
In summer, the space gets much more full and blowsy which is what I want. Because my friend, Helen Weis, owner of Unique by Design Landscaping and Containers, stops by sometimes to play, she reminds me I need more symmetry to keep things in order. Over the years, I’ve followed her sage advice, balancing trees and shrubs on either side of the main border. I also now plant swathes of things like Phlox divaricata instead of collections of one.
In fact, I planted another Salvia greggii ‘Pink Preference’ autumn sage on the south side yesterday to match the one on the north side of the path. Even when you do this though, things don’t always grow the same way and bloom at the same time. Sometimes, they do though, and then, it’s breathtaking.
In the potager, again, I have very formal lines, but as you see, it becomes happily overgrown by late summer. This growth and general bounty make me very happy. It tells me the garden is happy, and I am content.
I’m so glad I read Swift’s book. All gardens are folly after all, and they change over time which is part of what makes gardening so fascinating.
This weekend, I’ll be in Asheville, NC, speaking at the Mother Earth News Fair about Ten Tips to Start on the Gardening Path to Happiness. If you live in the Asheville area, I hope to see you. Come up and say hi.
Now, if you’re off this weekend and have time, have a big think about your garden too. Does it express your personality? If not, what small changes can you implement to make it yours? After all, as Monty Don, one of my favorite celebrity gardeners, would say, “Gardens aren’t about plants. Gardens are about people.” What does your garden say about you?