The Garden Life: Gardening not a perfect science



The idea of creating the perfect garden always lingers in my mind.

This garden would be a constantly changing experience — large enough to allow me to experiment with any of the newest trends yet small enough to maintain single-handed. It would be a showcase of natural beauty that reflected all of my best ideas. Perhaps, at its best, it would be a mirror to my soul.

In reality, an ideal garden is a fantasy. There are ups and there are downs in the life of every real garden. A constant, dreamlike state is difficult to sustain when success depends on weather conditions and plant habit. This year, summer temperatures refuse to linger for more than three days at a time. My potted hydrangea wilts under the relentless glare of one day of full sun. Weeds show no respect for the gardener who takes a week off for personal reasons.

I’m reminded of the times I’ve taken the annual tour of the Street of Dreams, a place we all go to get a glimpse of the newest home and garden trends. Here we find perfect houses filled with the best appliances and the latest technology, as well as interior design by experts in the field. Each house is surrounded by a masterpiece of architectural hard-scaping, enhanced by all the garden that money can buy.

While it is exciting to experience all the possibilities, it’s also a bit overwhelming to return home and wonder how we can even begin to bring our own home and garden up to this new standard. It is useful to keep a running list of new ideas in your garden notebook. It’s debilitating to compare your garden to every other one.

The glaring realization that your swan appears to be an ugly duckling by the latest consumer polls would bring Pollyanna to her knees.

It’s a simple fact that we all garden under different circumstances. Each and every one of us has different likes and dislikes, hopes and dreams and desires. Despite the contemporary mandate to rely on multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns to tell us all how we should be living our lives, the only way to feel right about our choices is to follow our own hearts.

Reflection of creator

When we recall a garden that has made an impression on us, most will envision one that reflected the personality of the gardener who created it. At the close of any garden tour, it’s inevitably the garden that expressed a unique vision that lingers in the group mind. When looking at a piece of art, it’s the one that reflects the artist and our own mutual ideals that delight us the most. Expressing our personal vision and sharing it with others is the only way we can feel that we have said what we have to say.

Occasionally I think to myself, “That’s it, my garden is fully formed and filled with thriving plants. I have all the ornamentation I need. Let’s call it finished.” And with that statement, my feeble attempt at self-control dissipates.

My mind focuses on filling the bare spots where the lupine have died away. There is always room for one more delicate morsel. Say a small, wispy, ornamental grass such as the dainty, Stipa tenuissima. Or, perhaps, an amber glass bumble bee.

The magic of the garden is this: to reap all the benefits, you don’t always have to get it right. Gardening is like real life. By thought and effort you can change what you think needs to be changed, now or next year. And because no other single work of art stays with us so long and lasts through all of our personal transformations like a garden, we will eventually make some changes.

As we change, the garden changes and as the garden matures, so do we. Change is inevitable. This, above anything else, is one guarantee we get from gardening. A garden is part of nature and nature is a great metaphor for life. To some people, Mother Nature is a metaphor for a higher power. When you garden, you learn to work with Mother Nature; you don’t take over her job.

Anyone who thinks differently will spend endless hours pruning, edging, weeding and spraying rather than puttering, planting, dreaming and yes, just enjoying the garden. To experience the pleasure of gardening, you need to expect more than mere results. It is the accumulation of ideal moments that gives us a sustained sense of joy.

The seeds of our ideas bring about a uniquely personal harvest.

Robb Rosser is a WSU-certified master gardener. Reach him at