Friday, July 1, 2011

The Inconsistent Gardener

One of the many things I love about summer is my flower garden. Mind you, I use the word "garden" very loosely. By standard definition, mine barely qualifies. Besides being small, misshapen and hilly, it lacks symmetry, reason and defined edges. The weeds don't seem to mind any of this, as they congregate there en masse quite regularly. And I spent the first year just clearing out old, crowding trees, which my husband replaced with a couple of smaller, flowering bushes moved from elsewhere in the yard.

But since gardens are a lot like children, I like to focus on the strong points, hoping that encouragement and optimism will help mine to thrive. Plus, this helps me to downplay my own weak points.

Being a woman, I exercise my right to change my mind all the time. When it comes to what I put in my closet, that's not such a good thing because it means new clothes are required every season. I also like things a certain way (read: I'm controlling). Happily, gardens have flexible, inexpensive options for people like me. Specifically, annuals. Last year, the first year that I actually planted anything, I was all about orange and yellow. Daffodils, marigolds, snapdragons, lilies, we had lots of variety with very few colors. I didn't mind though--it all went together nicely.

This year, I was feeling more daring, and more purplish-blue. Maybe I craved a wardrobe change that depressed me with thoughts of its prohibitive cost. Or perhaps the long, wet spring built a sunless mood in me that transitioned to my flower choices. Regardless, this year the palette is cool and wide. Purples, blues, pinks and fuscias have all made appearances since spring via hyacinth, irises, azaleas and tulips. Throw in some raspberry bushes, onion grass, wild strawberries and roses, and you can see the chaos in my garden has begun to parallel the chaos inside my house. Maybe I'm just getting older, but neither of these things seems to bother me the way it might have years ago.

In the three years I've worked on this little patch of land, I've learned a few things.

1) Wear gloves.
2) Gardening pants work better than shorts.
3) Clashing colors are allowed.
4) Plan to plant and mulch in spring to prevent weeds; don't wait till they've taken over in June and try to pull them out.
5) The gardener cares more than anyone else.

Today I learned that the hydrangea, my favorite of all my flowers, has a tendency to take over a garden. All summer long, the bush's flowers are a riot of color--white, green, pink, purple, yellow and blue, and the blossoms vary in location and size as much as in color. And it's not an annual. What will this mean if I change my color scheme next year? Thanks to lesson number three, not a thing.

In my 12 years of parenting, I've learned a little bit more than what my garden has taught me. But all those lessons have also been hands-on.

Despite the mix and mess, my ignorance and fumblings, my little corner garden makes me smile. And maybe if I'm lucky, and keep working optimistically, it will grow into something worth sharing. Like my children, it doesn't seem to mind my mistakes. It loves the attention and care, gets on well despite the weeds, tests and teaches me, and makes me smile every day.

"I think the true gardener, the older (s)he grows, should more and more develop a humble, grateful and uncertain spirit." ~Reginald Farrer, In a Yorkshire Garden, 1909

Amen, brother.

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