The Garden Life: Remember, the garden is a place of rest




I can hardly remember the last time I really had nothing to do in the garden. I’m talking about a day when all the beds have been weeded, pruning and deadheading flowers has been done and anything that has been planted recently has been watered deeply enough to go a day or two without additional water. Once in a while we need to coast and do nothing in our own gardens even if there is something to do.

This morning, I took advantage of the hot sun and my lazy mood to lie back and read a couple of poems from a favorite book, 10 poems to change your life compiled by Roger Housden. Isn’t it interesting that the poems that move us most often do so with a mention of the scent of flowers or a gentle breeze or the smell of earth or the sound of bird song? How lovely to reach out from my comfortable garden chair and touch the poetry of this place.

Another thing I like to do on slow summer days is to take a long walk through the garden without intention. I say that, but I still wear gloves and I do take a pair of pruners because there will always be something that needs to be tended in a large garden. If I have the tools with me I am not compelled to cut my walk short as I run back for pruners to remove a thorny, wayward rose branch.

On my walk today I found myself spending a bit of time in all the special places that my big Collie dog, Scout, used to claim as his own. According to my garden journal, he passed away in June of 2005 on a summer day like today. Jim and Rose and our girl Collie, Grace were there, too. Could it really be eight years ago and has it really been twenty years since I have lived here? I recognize all the places Scout made his own where he would sit and watch as I gardened.

Soak in the memories

In many ways, my garden triggers memories of times gone by. The heady scent of roses and the sweet sugary smell of a climbing honeysuckle still take me back to that place of carefree days when there was nothing more important to do than play the day away. At some time in every gardener’s education we learn to use scent in the garden for its sensory impact. Fragrance can also be good for the soul.

It has taken two years but finally, this morning, my Japanese iris began to flower for the first time. I’m referring to Iris ensata, formerly I. kaempferi. Japanese irises are very particular about their culture and conditions. New transplants may not bloom the first year. You can expect the best bloom on 2 and 3 year old plants. They need lots of water which makes them perfect as pond-side plants. They are demanding but will reward you with tall robust plants and large blooms.

Sometimes it seems that the life of a flower is too short and Japanese irises are a good example of that fact. When they are in flower, the sumptuous blossoms float on slender stems in the most elegant hues of violet, pink, rose, red, purple and white, often veined or edged in contrasting shades. They won’t last long but the experience of seeing them in bloom is so worthwhile. They are like giant butterflies and especially wonderful when mirrored in the still water of a reflecting pool.

Since I made the decision to move from my home and garden, I have not added any new summer plants as I always did in the past. I know that will change once I begin a new garden but for now it’s all about maintaining what is already here. I am glad that I paid attention to my own advice and gave each tree and shrub the room it would need to mature to its full potential. There were plenty of mistakes along the way but the picture I see before me today makes me very happy.

Today was one more beautiful day in a string of beautiful days in the garden. The onset of full blown sunshine, just a week after the calendar jumped from late spring to early summer, was exactly what I needed to set me on the road to reminiscence. As nice as it is to stroll down memory lane, it’s still early in the afternoon and the sun will be out for many more hours. I’m feeling a second wind and if I get started now I’m sure I can find something out there that needs to be done.

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