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The Garden Life: Diary chronicles evolution of garden, gardener

The Columbian
Published: May 2, 2012, 5:00pm
2 Photos
Gardening is about looking forward to the results of working in the garden.
Gardening is about looking forward to the results of working in the garden. Photo Gallery

When I look back to the beginning of my garden journal, I am surprised to see that I have been gardening here at Scout’s Run for 20 years. Like the perennials that endure from year to year, I have continued to keep a seasonal record of my gardening life. I enjoy the process of being a lifelong learner. In the changing world of nature, one never reaches a point where there is nothing left to learn. Therefore, despite the years, I am quite content thinking of myself as a perennial novice.

In the last 20 years, my diary has taken many forms, from lists of daily chores and tasks, to a running commentary on our ever-changing weather. I have tracked fertilization schedules and the first and last mowing and snow dates of each year. The heart of my garden diary revolves around personal experiences: the hopes, dreams and understanding that have come to me through gardening itself.

In March of 2000, I find this entry,

written sideways on a page full of weather notes: “Today I began writing the weekly garden column for The Columbian, Vancouver, Washington’s largest daily newspaper. My first column, Welcome to the Garden Life, was published on March 23, 2000.” That was twelve years ago. By my count, today’s column is number 630 and that includes 630 garden photographs, most from my own garden.

Gardening is about looking forward to the results of working in the garden. One day, you look through a garden magazine and sigh at the impossibility of creating anything as wonderful as an old English Manor house surrounded by vast gardens. Then, spring arrives in your own garden, and the small grouping of primrose you planted last fall blooms in lovely shades of pastel pink and lavender, with contrasting yellow eyes. At that moment, small becomes quite grand and you see all the possibilities before you.

I began to keep track of my experiences in a garden diary as gardening grew in importance to me. Many simple events in the garden lifted my spirits. At the very least, they deserved further reflection. It was not long before the events of my garden life outgrew the spaces in my garden journal, and the details began to overflow the small boxes of my garden calendar. I wrote of a memory brought back by the scent of honeysuckle in summer and a pond that Jim and I built thirteen years ago, now aging with ferns and moss.

One sunny morning, I wrote, “By midspring, my best-performing rose, the floribunda “Morning has Broken” from Heirloom Old Garden roses, is in full bloom. This most delightful sunshine-yellow rose, backed by the deep green of a slowly maturing yew hedge, will bloom well into fall, with tight lemon drop buds holding on as late as January in mild winters. On a wooden trellis, the stamens of the clematis “Nelly Moser” burst out of the center of each blossom in a golden spray that ties the bed together by color.”

Getting things right

I have to write everything down because I have seldom gotten things right from the beginning in my own garden. It took me five years and several transplantings to end up with my porcelain berry vine, ampelopsis brevipedunculata “Elegans,” in a place that highlights its best features. It has become a showcase vine in the center of a large planting bed that can be seen from the kitchen and dining room windows of the house. It clambers up and through a mature witch hazel, with leaves marbled in creamy yellow and deep green variegation. A stately boulevard cypress with dusty blue foliage serves as a fine backdrop for the metallic blue, grape-purple and turquoise berries that give the vine its common name.

I do my best to not only record, but to enjoy the act of gardening. If you garden only for the results, you will be disillusioned the first time someone is partial to powder blue asters over your preference for a colorful bed of hot-red dahlias. I garden all year long in some manner. In winter, I garden my way through books, magazines and catalogues. In spring, a planter full of yellow emperor tulips by the front door sets the stage for all who come to visit. Today, I write down what I do and see. Tomorrow, I will reflect on what I have learned. As I accept my status in the garden as both a perennial and a novice, I have also come to think of myself as a gardener.

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