Gardening Through The Years

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Poppies are simply gorgeous

Growing (Older) With The Garden

Recently I’ve been visiting (in person and virtually) gardens of friends who have been gardening in the same place for many years. Seeing any gardens develop from exciting potential to abundant maturity is delightful, but especially so when we’ve had a hand in the process. Whether it’s offering ideas and lists, helping to edit over time, or crawling around under lethally armed shrubs, bravely bleeding yet persisting (!) until the daunting task is done, joining the gardener in the endeavor also joins us to the garden. Last night, strolling a large, complex garden with its amazing mom, we shared powerful memories of long gone plants, of designs coming into fruition and designs gone astray, of plants battling for dominance and plants that refused to be uprooted. Working in a garden, however fitfully, creates a relationship with both plants and people that can endure for decades.

Of course, it doesn’t always work that way; years after doing a consultation I often recall much more about the garden than about the gardener. I’m afraid people don’t find it flattering that I remember exactly how huge firs or the septic field dictated that garden design but fail to recall the gardener’s name. I’m curious whether other gardeners develop this kind of lasting connection with place and plants, one that remains strong over years of separation. Seeing a garden after a lapse of time, are most of us able to envision the way it was and also see how those early roots have grown into something different?

Keeping It Real

I used to assume that all gardeners are both visually oriented and also feel kinship with their plants. It’s always fascinating to work with someone who doesn’t process that way. Quite often they are people who prefer to grow edibles in neat rows and whose souls are soothed by a uniformity and tidiness that makes my toes twitch. No surprise there? My favorite gardens all have at least a touch of the wild, and most truly celebrate the magnificent abundance of plants, letting them develop their natural forms wherever possible. Naturally, that means we must be especially wise and far sighted when we place and plant them. We all mean to do that, but the seductive lure of the multitude of marvelous plants can make wisdom and discretion take a back seat to desire.

When we are young and tireless, that creates a wonderful dance of planting and transplanting, editing and squeezing just one more charmer into a vignette that cries out for just that touch of chartreuse (if green is the basic black of the garden, chartreuse is the string of pearls). However, as we ourselves mature, age begins to play an ever-larger role. Many of us are leaving large houses and great gardens behind and learning to live small, and many of us are loving the change. A dear friend who had a huge and complex garden in Alaska for many years recently relocated to a modest home in Ohio with a very small garden. As we swap pictures of our tiny spaces, we both display astonishing maturity of insight:

LB: (sending image of tiny side garden afloat in sweet peas)

Me: (sending an image of my tiny front garden full of sweet peas)

LB: It’s beautiful. That is all a person needs. Why did we feel like we had to have one million and eleven plants?

Me: Yes, when I think of the obsessive years when I had to grow every single species or form of peony or iris or primrose or whatever, I marvel at the energy and devotion that required.

Mature, right? These days I’m truly content with my small space, the generosity of the plants, and the little birds that love my garden. Having fewer flowers means I look at each one more closely, as I used to do when I first fell in love with a poppy as a child. Less work to do, more time to take delight. Onward, right?

Small is beautiful (and a loteasier to deal with)

This entry was posted in Annual Color, Birds In The Garden, Garden Design, Health & Wellbeing, Plant Diversity, Plant Partnerships, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Gardening Through The Years

  1. ann Herman says:

    I especially enjoyed your garden thoughts today as I struggle with a garden too large and old age! ( both me and the garden) One area I have let go as it is behind a privacy fence along one side of the deck. Now I just call it the meadow or the pollinator garden!

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Ann, I think many of us who were mad crazy gardeners are slowing down and enjoying the benefits of simplicity!

  2. Sandra Profitt says:

    Thank you for your graceful attitude towards life and gardening. I have loved your musings since I found a copy of the “Year in Bloom” in my local thrift store. Your weather is very similar to mine in the southern gulf islands so finding the book was kizmit. I thoroughly enjoyed that book and your newsletters with so many extra tidbits of knowledge thrown in. Like the one about recycling paper food dispensers and coffee cups.
    Thank you and all the very best to you and yours
    Sandra from Saltspring island

  3. Diane says:

    Hoped for the variety of the lavender poppy. What a piece of ruffled art!

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Hi Diane, that ruffled lavender poppy is Papaver somniferun and quite variable from seed; last year all I had was pink ones, some very double, some single. Some years I get purple ones and red ones. It’s fun to see what Nature is bringing me each year!

  4. Kathy says:

    I think you are a wonderful writer… I have all of your books… you have great insight and always inspire me… thank you so much!

  5. lauren says:

    oh, yes! you are describing my ways as a garderner for others, and for myself. over more recent years, i’ve come to a place in my own personal garden, to just plant native plants. it’s one of my small ways of supporting all the ones who live in our environments. I had a wondrous experience watching them populate the garden as I dug up another one foot of turf around two sides of the garden. as well, i saw how certain ‘naturalized’ plants…dandelion and plantain, for sure, came into the garden in the second year.

    i watched as the resident natives made only a little room for them, and so my fears of the natives being overtaken were put to rest. they all know what they’re doing. then salal showed up, and i became even more concerned. i’ve delt with her sneaking into the gardens where i’ve worked…or encouraging her to move back a bit: it’s a big job. in my sweet little native plant garden, she made one straight line through the garden, but did not spread laterally…at all. that was five or so years ago, and now i’ve moved far away. who knows what’s become of that sweet oasis.

    as always, thanks deeply for your relationship with the green-growing-ones, and for sharing your journey with us.

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