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There are garden plans…


…and then there’s what actually happens.

You can relax and put your feet up while you visit this site. I’m not going to make you guilty or wistful with images of unattainable perfection—mainly because I can’t. My aim is to show the beauties of an imperfect garden, and to share what I’ve learned: from woo-woo to science; from practical to ethereal. My garden is the place where I meet head-on (and hands-on) with the way my human nature makes a working relationship with the rest of nature—and the mayhem and beauty that ensue.

I do quite literally grow tulips in the woods. But the title of this blog is also suggestive of the way I garden (and the way I garden is suggestive of the way I live). I love garden plants from all over the world. I also deeply appreciate the landscape I live in. I don’t want to turn it into an English cottage garden or an Italian formal garden or a showplace of the latest in plant decor. I get a little surly about this sometimes. If people think the area I live in is so beautiful (and they do), why do they want to turn it into someplace else the minute they start a garden?

On the other hand, I’m no don’t-tamper-with-nature purist. Gardening, like all life on earth, seems to involve a certain amount of corruption. My feeling is it’s best to admit it and just do the best we can. I’m glad there are people who garden only with natives (I like natives, too, in my garden and out of it), but after decades of living with my landscape, I know that what I see and touch was shaped partly by heavy logging, mining, road- and house-building, and imported plants that made themselves at home, sometimes driving out the natives. I myself am an import whose ancestors drove out the natives.

What to do? Some kind of marriage is in order. Some kind of compromise. Some kind of understanding.

For me, it starts with the siren call of plants. My earliest memories contain blazing pyracantha berries, springy green dichondra, and tough, scruffy grass—there was something about them that made me want to look at them and listen to them and be with them. I didn’t know then that they weren’t native plants; I didn’t know they were cliché Southern California suburb plantings. They were just the plants I knew.

Wild plants came later, in a suburb on the other side of the continent. But they were blended with the imports: there I was in fall, watching the the ginkgos my mother planted whump down all their gold fan-shaped leaves at once–unlike the native oaks and maples, which gently wafted many-colored leaves down, a few at a time. I marveled equally at the weirdness of jack-in-the-pulpits springing up pale in the dark woods, and the taste of the fat sun-warm strawberries my father planted. (My father grew up on a farm and wasn’t remotely interested in doing that kind of work again, but it did give him a taste for fresh strawberries.)

I started rambling in the woods, and in the herb section of libraries, working my way deeper and further, learning my way around. I traveled and looked at and used plants everywhere I went, a hunter-gatherer of plants and knowledge.

I was in my twenties, out in the woods and dreaming I was self-sufficient, when I became a gardener. I made my plans: two beds shaped like a crescent moon and the glyph for the planet Venus (the same as the symbol for a female). My garden was going to be full of esoteric meaning, not boring like everyone else’s. Then I started digging.

A few inches into the soil I hit decomposed granite. Then I hit solid rock. More digging showed it to be a big rock. I had to use a pickaxe to break it up. Ten minutes later, I hit my second boulder of granite. I changed my garden plan to “wherever I can dig without hitting rock”.

Gardening is like that. The land’s as likely to talk to you as you to it. And the weather. And the plants. Gardening’s a conversation, not a dictation. Every garden (even a pot on a windowsill) involves us, our cultural mores, the native plants, the imported plants, the weather, the soil, the birds, the insects, and a lot of other beings. In a good conversation, everyone has a voice and, hopefully, everyone has a good time and comes out of it different than they went in.

I hope you’ll join in, too.

{ 6 comments… add one }

  • Helen at Toronto Gardens May 22, 2009, 7:17 pm

    Love the philosophy. My granite boulder is the dense shade of couple of Norway maples with their roots in many feet of sand… and my garden. A writing teacher once told me, “You have to plough the field you’re given.” Guess that applies to gardening, too.

  • Pomona Belvedere May 23, 2009, 6:17 pm

    That sounds like a garden quote to me! One of the interesting things to me about blogs is you get to see what everybody does make of their particular field.

  • Meredith December 11, 2009, 4:12 pm

    Oh, what a wonderful first post, and definitely a philosophy on which to build a blog! Can’t wait to read more.

  • Benjamin January 4, 2010, 5:17 pm

    Exactly! Everything you said! But I don’t mind a little Italian in the garden if it’s the idea of it, or at least blended in, perhaps the raw background or inner bone, now overgorwn with lovely local plants.

  • Sue Langley March 2, 2011, 10:44 am

    Hi There,
    I’m gardening in the woods, too, with the plants that need more care near the house and the wild areas just groomed up a bit. We have the same philosophy in ways, but you can express it better than I, for sure. I will look forward to reading more of your posts.

  • Barbara March 19, 2012, 6:04 pm

    Where are you located, i.e., what zone? Am interested in growing Cardoon in the Dallas, TX area. Was told it was a winter plant; that it wouldn’t make it through the summer heat here. Has this been your experience?

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