TELEVISION GARDEN makeover programs peddle “instant” results, “perfect” landscapes and even purport to “rescue” our beds and borders. Call me skeptical, but I think this approach, while tempting to dream about, especially in the heat of late summer, when my garden is looking especially tired, completely misses the point of why gardeners garden.
To tend a plot of earth, even if it’s only a container of herbs on the back patio, is to engage in a relationship with nature. While “The Bachelor” might provide entertaining escapism, the franchise has very few lasting nuptials to show for its 25 seasons — apparently you need more than eight to 10 episodes to find the love of your life. Likewise, after sun, soil and water, time is the most important factor in the life of a garden and the education of a gardener.
At its best, a personal landscape reflects the hand of the gardener who tends it; it’s a living canvas where we get to indulge and express our preferences, pleasures and quirks. In my case, that looks like delicious edible crops, lots of color and texture, and the occasional vintage garden gnome.
Every growing season offers us another chance to expand our knowledge and skills as well as opportunities to play and experiment. Is anything more delightful than discovering a new favorite plant? A few years ago, I’d never paid much attention to poppy anemones. Now, planting not-very-promising wrinkled brown corms each fall and then harvesting their generous spring blossoms is a treasured rhythm of my gardening year.
It’s true: In addition to reaping delicious flavors and bountiful blooms, investing yourself in making a garden can break your heart, bruise your ego and test your fortitude. That brutal heat wave earlier this summer put a frightening end to many garden dreams almost before the 2021 growing season was underway. But for the most part, the garden is a forgiving arena in which to fail. Even if the deer nibble the newly planted hydrangeas, the crows make off with the berries and the heat takes out a favorite potted fuchsia, we can adapt, replant and look to next year. We get to begin again.
Tending a garden is to partner with time, both the slow pace of daily chores and the sometimes-alarming evidence of how quickly time passes. This last point is my greatest take-away from a life spent plotting and planting, inventing and reinventing (again and again). Caring for my very imperfect and far-from-instant garden teaches me to cultivate patience and pay attention, whether I’m waiting for seeds to sprout or watching a young tree grow up with my family.
Being a hands-on gardener has taught me to discover wonder and navigate loss, in the landscape and beyond. Like the world around us, our gardens are always changing. The sweetly scented beautiful blossoms and delicious berries, as well as disappointing and aggravating snails/heat/drought/weeds, all provide common ground for cultivating humanity.