I’ve come to a realization this summer: I love growing plants. Elementary, I know. But I mean, really growing plants, one after another, all the year round, from seed to harvest. I may be a farmer at heart.
My perennial borders—once a fun challenge to create, to adjust, to balance—are now established and despite the weekly or monthly shifts in colour and character, they feel fixed, and I dare say, full up. Annuals change the tableau and while I tuck them in the way a chef might add a little garnish to a dish, the meat of the borders remain, year in, year out. My green thumb twitches for more.
This personal conundrum made me think about how each of us are drawn to certain tasks in the garden; how I might love to sow, but not stake; how transplanting makes me feel like a good parent, and pruning, despite all evidence to the contrary, like a petulant one. Flower arranging consumes hours of my attention, while lawn care I entirely neglect.
When it comes to gardening, I’m learning that it’s best to play to one’s passions.
Case in point: a friend calls himself—and forgive the term— a ‘bloom slut’. He can’t be happy with his garden if something isn’t crushingly, beautifully, in bloom. He’s a rhododendron, dahlia and lily man of course, but he knows his weaknesses and therefore also his strength; he grows big flowers well. Despite his wife’s complaints, he doesn’t see the beauty of the small or the elegance of green. In his garden, alpines and grasses need not apply.
Who are you in the garden? It’s hot out, so I’m going to make this easy. Grab a piece of paper, strike a line down it, and write on either side: yea or nay. Then sit back in the glory of a summer evening, pour yourself a cool beverage, and list all the garden tasks you love and all the tasks you loathe. List verbs and try using the the present participle to better feel yourself watering, raking, pruning, sowing, composting, weeding, and so on. Easy work making lists, but they are important, given how they can influence a garden’s design.
As I walk the streets of Oak Bay, I can’t help but think many gardens are attempts to live up to an idea, rather than an outdoor space designed to fit with a homeowner’s skills or interests. Take bark mulch. Clearly a sign of someone who doesn’t like weeding, but the problem of weeds would be sooner solved by dense planting. If you’re bored watering, xeriscape. If you love composting, grow vegetables.
The most successful gardens fit with the spirit of the gardener, not solely match to plants to a site.
I have a friend who likes to rake moss. Happy with a tight focus, she has found contentment with a Japanese-style garden, where she uses rocks, pavers and bamboo to good effect. It’s a peaceful place, shady, with few flowers, and it has taken her years to get there. Thankfully in life, what you nuture most eventually wins out.