The Art of Gardening

When I was younger, I was sort of a perfectionist, very concerned about doing things “right.” I would feel bad if someone who “knew better” told me I was doing something the wrong way.  I have become less of a perfectionist over the years. Experience has taught me that it’s an joyless burden trying to please everyone all the time.

I mention this because it affects the way that I garden. My method of gardening would probably horrify experts. I don’t really know what I am doing. I don’t always read books about how to garden better, and sometime I don’t follow advice that I read–unless I think it would be interesting to try.

I think of gardening as an art, not a science. Years ago, an artist friend taught my younger sister and I how to do tole painting. He advised us not to try to make everything perfect–perfect little flowers or perfect little trees or perfect little feathers on an owl–because nothing in real life is perfect and there is more beauty in imperfection. I think this applies to gardens too. I am certainly an imperfect gardener.

I do not plant things in neat rows surrounded by tidy wood chip mulch. I plant things wherever I think they would look nice and let them spread, if that’s what they want. Sometimes I find out, by trial and error, that a plant doesn’t like a certain spot or doesn’t look good there, so I move it. And maybe move it again.

I suspect that I might have accidentally yanked up plants in the Spring that I had planted in the Autumn because I didn’t recognize them. Oops. Oh, well.

For a couple of years I kept getting an ugly itchy rash on my hands or arms after working in my garden. I couldn’t figure out where it came from. I thought it might be the English ivy growing up the house. Then a friend who is an expert at gardening walked through my garden with me. “Do you know you have poison ivy here…and here…and here,” she asked. “Oh! So THAT’S what poison ivy looks like.” Oops. Oh, well. Now I know. I won’t be pulling THAT up barehanded again.

I have weird definitions of flowers and weeds. I think a flower is anything that is planted where I want it, and a weed is anything that is planted where I don’t want it. This means that a rose that is where I don’t want it is a weed, and a dandelion that is where I want it is a wildflower. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said,

What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered.

Occasionally my husband walks through the garden with me and asks me what things are. “What’s that?” he asks, pointing. “That’s a hosta,” I reply. “And that’s a wild rose,” I answer again. “What’s that pretty purple flower?” he points. “That,” I reply knowledgeably, “is a Pretty Purple Flower.” We laugh. It’s fun to learn the names of flowers and plants, but I don’t HAVE to know it’s name to enjoy it.

Basically, I don’t garden to please anyone, I am not trying to get my garden pictured in gardening magazines. I garden simply for the pleasure it brings me.  I like puttering around, playing in the dirt, enjoying the sunshine, and listening to the birds sing. I’m not after the “perfect” garden, I am after a wonderful experience.

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