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Garden Life: Opening garden to others cultivates much joy

By Robb Rosser
Published: June 4, 2015, 12:00am

Gardening is filled with private moments of joy. There are times when we look around at what we have created and feel a sense of elation. In 2004 I wrote in my garden journal: “This morning, the abundant, pink flowered dogwood, Cornus kousa ‘Rosabella’ is in full bloom. At its feet the upright blue flower stalks of Ajuga ‘Catlin’s Giant’ pop against the chartreuse foliage of golden pennywort.” At that moment, I understood the fulfillment of a long-held vision.

When we weed a garden border, the results of that work are more evident when we stand back to evaluate our efforts. But when we weed a garden border for the 10th time in five years, there is an inherent understanding that the work we are doing at this moment is part of a process. It’s something like bending one piece of metal to make a link and then linking that piece to one more until we have made a chain. Each gardening task is another link in a chain of ideas that we hold in our mind.

For many of us, there comes a time when we feel compelled to put our creation out there for others to see. When we do share our gardens, we put our heart on the line. All of a sudden, that which gives us pleasure is being looked at through other eyes. It follows that with different eyes there will be different ways to see the same garden. As always, when people are involved, there are many opinions. It is the habit of humankind to share their feelings about such things as art, music and gardens.

A family affair

For those gardeners with families, this happens every day without much ado. Children will probably never compliment you on your planting combinations but their opinions are evident when you watch them run gleefully across a clipped lawn with the family dog at their heels. Friends often say out loud how beautiful they think our gardens are and a spouse or partner says it all when he or she suggests we sit outside together in the garden for a while after an evening meal.

For those of us who open our gardens to the public, a whole new perspective comes to the forefront. All of a sudden there is a sense of anxiety attached to a place that has given us so much solace. For most of us, it’s a mix of emotions, from stage fright to outright fear. They say that public speaking is the No. 1 fear that most of us share. In a sense, showing your garden to a large group of people is very similar to speaking in front of an audience. You and the work that you have done are now on stage for all to see.

Whether it’s a group of friends coming over to the house for a garden party or a group of strangers with a common interest, when we open our garden to others we begin to analyze how they will feel about what we have created. Everything we have done by rote up until now goes through our most rigorous internal judgment. For some, this is as exciting as a surprise party. For many, this can take all the joy out of the moment. Either way, we have to go through these emotions before we learn to become comfortable in this situation.

Positive experience

Sharing your garden with others is important to the art of creating a garden. Can you imagine a world where artists were too shy to show their paintings or where musicians held back because they weren’t sure everyone would like their music? Look back at the last time you visited another garden and ask yourself how you felt about that garden. If you enjoy gardening, it is likely to be a positive memory. Why would we deny our fellow gardeners the joy of sharing our best ideas?

Opening my garden to others has always ended as a positive experience. Most visitors are generous and thankful and ready to tell you what they love most. We learn a lot by watching others pass through the work we have done. I still get nervous when I invite people over to my garden, but by the end of the day I think of those nerves as butterflies. I’ve learned to welcome the visitor and to let the butterflies flit and flutter and rise up through me in perfect formation.

Robb Rosser is a WSU-certified master gardener. Reach him at Write2Robb@aol.com