The Garden Life: Gardeners love cultivating plants – and ideas




As I prepare for my imminent departure from my garden at Scout’s Run, I have been reminiscing about the time of my life spent here. I gathered all of my old garden journals together and I find that opening any one of them to any page brings back such fond memories of a life well spent.

There are stories of family, people, dogs and cats. There is a history of the plants that make up the garden, their placement, their successes and failures. My intention is to put these journals together in a box before I move, so I think that this allows me to say “Yes” when friends ask if I have started packing up my house yet.

One of my favorite journal entries is centered on a day of sharing my garden with a couple of co-workers and fellow gardeners. Many years ago in early August I wrote that Diana and Gina and I had not had the chance to visit each other’s gardens. We took the time to make a definite plan and wrote the date in our calendars. My garden was first on the list.

There is one thing that almost all gardeners have in common: We rarely feel that our gardens are at their best on the day that other gardeners come to visit. If they could have just seen it last week when the brightly colored Asiatic lilies were in full flower. Or next week, when clematis “Dr. Ruppel” would be in full bloom on the tall iron trellis in the center of the main flower border. If we had just had a little less rain in June this year or a little more last winter.

Sunday morning was overcast and cool. I woke up early and did one final walk around the garden before their visit. A young buck had eaten down several of my roses and something was chewing on the leaves of a very small, very expensive variegated Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia “Argentia”). I hoped that every plant would unfold in a grand floral display on this one summer day.

The truth is that most gardeners love gardens enough to look

for the best in every one they visit. Gina and Diana were here to share in something we all had in common and loved to do. There is no animosity in a friendly garden visit. On the contrary, when gardeners get together you would think the mutual admiration society was holding a pep rally.

Through gardener’s eyes, they noticed the small, camellialike blossoms on the Stewartia “Pseudocamellia.” In the courtyard, they comment on sedums that will one day flower in hot pink, yellow and rose red. Gina likes the pale, dusty-pink blossoms of the Linaria “Canon Went” and I am able to use my spade to dig one out of the ground and put it in an empty gallon container.

There is not much better than having fellow gardeners express their joy in the garden you love to tend. Avid gardeners ask the name of all your favorite plants and commiserate over the same weeds. Diana likes the emerald green leaves of the ground cover pachysandra and I cut out two or three patches from the center of the bed. I warn them about the African impatiens. “They will reseed everywhere,” I tell them but my friends are well past hope by now. “More please,” they say.

What is it about someone else’s garden that makes us want their plants, their color combinations and their ideas? There is magic in sharing creativity, another proverbial element that grows the more you divide it up. At Diana’s house I scored the lovely oregano “Kent Beauty,” a seedling of Spanish lavender and an unnamed succulent by the pond.

By 7 in the evening we know we will not make it to Gina’s garden so we schedule another visit for the following week. I look forward to spending another day with friends who find joy in the scented Oriental lilies and who understand how you feel when a healthy, 3-year-old Japanese maple dies for no apparent reason.

My friends admire the wave of mass-planted ferns along my entry drive. I look forward to brainstorming about planting a rocky slope like the one along the side of Gina’s house. Diana’s pond makes me want a water feature near the entry door and later I find a lion head fountain to do the job for me. I know it’s better to give than to receive, but every once in a while it’s wonderful to do both in one day.

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