When Excess Is Not Our Friend
Hoarding. It’s on my mind because I’ve been helping to empty the jam-packed apartment and garage of a friend who has had a series of strokes and is now confined to a hospital bed, unable to move on her own. I can only imagine how it must feel to have that last stroke and boom! You lose half your body, your autonomy, your agency, your home, your bed, your garden. She has no family, so her friends are helping with the excavation of her stuff. I use the term advisedly, as she is an incredibly neat and tidy hoarder. Open any door in her place and the closet or cupboard will be so full you can’t insert a piece of paper. Start unpacking and you begin to wonder if there’s an extra dimension to the closet, but instead of Narnia, you’ll find the Interstellar Collection Of Old Toothbrushes. Far more comes out of each space than any neuro-typical person could even imagine would fit in it.
My friend was an artist and crafter and her collections are numerous and impressive. There are dozens of little birds of ceramic or wood, dozens of piggy banks, dozens of beautiful pieces of driftwood. Hundreds of shells. Bins of barnacles. Drawers and boxes packed with interesting stones or beach glass or colored sheet glass or broken pottery. We are passing what we can along to local artists, people who do mosaic or work in assemblage or collage or glass art or natural materials. But a heartbreaking amount of her stuff isn’t of any use to anyone. Natural materials-thousands of sticks and rocks an shells-are getting recycled or tucked back into woods or taken back to the beach. But then there’s the garden.
Every Little Thing
Now, I admit, I am something of a plant hoarder myself, if less now than in my prime. When I first started gardening, about fifty years ago (!), I was pretty undiscriminating. Basically, I wanted to grow anything and everything I came across, just to learn more about plants of all kinds. At first, I ordered from Gurney’s Nursery catalogs, which included all kinds of weird things; their ads were like those on the back of comic books, where you could buy Amazing Sea Monkeys and X-Ray Glasses that let you spy on the neighbors in the shower (eeeuuuu). I was fascinated with the idea of buying a vegetable garden by the yard, so I bought coir mats with seeds inside and long tapes with vegetable seeds neatly spaced. You just planted the tape or the mat and shazam! Instant garden!! Of course I tried them all, and of course they didn’t work, but I thought it was probably my fault. Decades later, I learned that many seed companies were banking on that must-be-me syndrome and routinely sold dubious-quality seeds to backyard gardeners that commercial growers wouldn’t have put up with for a minute.
When I ordered ten trees for two dollars and got an envelope with ten thready little twigs I assumed that was the way mail order nurseries worked and planted the poor pathetic things. The miracle was that now and then, something actually lived, which of course fed my acquisitive habit. By the time I got to college I was growing houseplants, mostly from cuttings and starts donated by friends. My dorm room windowsill was packed with plants, as were the windowsills of every apartment afterward. I made curtains of Jasmine and sweet peas, training them up wires on eye-hooks (never, of course, worrying about what was happening to the woodwork). I grew cactus from seed (and actually got quite a variety!) and ferns from spores (wet bricks worked a treat). I filled the fire escape and was delighted when seedlings appeared on the ground far below. I treasured each and every seedling and compulsively potted up everything that came my way.
A Bit Of Land And No Sense
When I finally got my first actual garden, my acquisitiveness knew no bounds. I had more income then, and had discovered real nurseries, with amazingly cool plants that didn’t have to be coaxed to survive (that came later). I discovered the seed lists of various plant societies and started ordering everything that sounded intriguing, spending hours snuggled up with huge, bulky reference books looking up everything unfamiliar (pre-internet, that was a lot more work). By then, the perennial boom was starting up and I met serious hortheads who were collectors. Real collectors, with passions broad and narrow. Some had every historic florist’s primula in existence, some had the only this or that in North America, some had the most daylilies (as in several thousand), some had the blackest iris, the most intricately patterned snowdrops, the rarest species peonies, the hottest new something (at that time, you could trade a single corm of Crocosmia Lucifer for anything your heart lusted after. True story!).
By then, I was starting to write about plants and get paid, so I could write off my plant expenses. That opened the floodgates and whatever tiny remnant of restraint I had left was swept away. Of course I needed every new Heuchera! Naturally I had to grow every minor bulb commercially available. Why would I NOT buy anything at all that might increase my knowledge and my garden? Well, hmm. The garden, sadly, wasn’t quite as large as my appetite for plants. I also had two home schooling kids and a busy writing and speaking career to manage. No worries! Just pot up those new plants and they could get shoehorned in at the right time, which somehow never came. My pot ghetto grew to cover a truly impressive amount of land, and got harder to maintain well. That didn’t mean I stopped buying things, of course, but it did mean that sometimes when I bore home a rare plant in high glee I would be dismayed to discover that I already had one in a pot and it wasn’t exactly thriving. Oh.
You Can’t Take It With You
Those days are long gone, but mostly because I now live in a very small home with a tiny yard. Yes, there are still quite a few pots, but no more sad strays or dying swans. My friend’s garden was as crammed as her apartment, and most of the plants had seen better days, but I have no judgement in my heart for her. I’ve been re-homing whatever I could, passing on plants and pots and garden art through our local Buy Nothing group. After several dozen people have been by to pick and choose, there are still around fifty pots, dozens of mossy rocks, zillions of cool sticks and shells.
Dismantling her collection reminded me of leaving so many of my own gardens over the years, letting go of plants, pots, and people along the way. I’ve been tipping the soil out of her remaining pots and smoothing it into beds that will probably be swallowed by moss and forest before too long. The last pots will get recycled at Lowe’s (the garden center ones have a bring-and-take bin), and the last of her beloved plants are ending up in the green waste bin, bound for that big compost heap in the sky. A week ago, my friend was sad to leave so much behind, but this week, things have changed. She had a waking dream yesterday in which a single red rose sprouted from her chest, its thick, thorny stem climbing up to the sun. The rose opened and a puff of wind blew the petals away.