07 March 2011

Learning to love what I love

When I started seriously gardening in my teens, all I grew was roses. I wanted those huge, opulent, complex, fragrant flowers. I would flip through catalogs and books, totally absorbed in the incredible close-up images. When my own plants produced their first blooms, I bent down, cradling them in my hands like a lover, their scent, texture, and color filling all my senses. Pure joy.

Then I started getting educated. I read books on garden design, got the my first horticulture degree, and learned about things like foliage and year-round interest. I learned that focusing totally on lovely flowers was a rookie mistake, that “real” garden designers grow plants with leaves and stems that look great for months and months rather than flash-in-the-pan effect of floral drama queens. I'm grateful for that education -- it lead me to learn to appreciate the simple, reliable joys of plants like cardoons and bronze fennel.

Somewhere, though, in learning what I "ought" to love I lost track of some of the things I actually love. It turns out that, though I like reliable backdrop plants that look great all year, what I really love is the ephemeral. I WANT my garden to flare up in gorgeous color one day that is gone the next. That's why I live in Michigan. I love spring, and summer and fall, the change, the dynamism. I even love winter – the long peace, the planning, the slowly, tortuously building anticipation that leaves me literally shaking, dancing, laughing with joy when those first crocuses and snowdrops show themselves.
 Steady, reliable performers that don't have an off season are all well and good if you are designed a landscape for a business or park that needs to look good all the time. But I want more in my home garden. I want drama. I want anticipation. I'm happy to accept some ungangly forms or awkward bare spots in exchange for those thrilling, long-awaited moments of sheer perfect unimaginable beauty. The peonies, lilies, tulips, roses, gladiolus, chrysanthemums and all the rest.

I've learned to laugh it off when someone pulls out the tired old line about mature gardeners focusing on foliage rather than flowers. I'm going to plant what I love because I love it, let the designers and experts think what they will. I'd rather be deliriously happy than 'right' any day.

9 comments:

Mrs Bok - The Bok Flock said...

Love this passionate post, I love bright startling flowers and maybe that is why the showiest blooms don't last that long, to make us appreciate them when they're here.

scottweberpdx said...

Couldn't agree more...and one of the reasons I can't bring myself to plant shrubs in my garden. I have the tiniest garden ever...and giving up space to something that, while pleasant enough all year, is just so static and boring irks me. I want the ups, the downs...the "dynamism" as you state. I want the garden to feel like there is always something going on...the change and growth (and even decline) are what's exciting. I do love foliage, form, etc., and am conscious of multi-season interest, but not at the expense of MY interest! In the end, a garden need only make it's gardener happy...everything else is gravy ;-)

Commonweeder said...

I am in agreement - although I am glad that I have a few,very few, roses that bloom for longer than three weeks- which is the bloom season of the Rose Walk. Lots of other 'ephemerals' to keep me happy the rest of the year.

danger garden said...

Wonderful post! While we are pretty much polar opposites (I'm the foliage lover) I agree that gardening for your personal enjoyment is what it's all about. If you don't love it then what's the point? Carry on rose lover!

Tom said...

I'm with you on this one. My yard is full of things that bloom for about a week and they disappear until the next year. I've always been a huge fan of planting for each month instead of planting so that everything is in bloom from may-october. By that point the flowers become no different than the foliage and what's the fun in that. A hardwood forest with a carpet of trout lilies and dutchman's breeches would not be as exciting if you saw it all summer. Besides if you garden with ephemerals you can fit so many more plants into a single patch of land than you can with stuff that's up all season!

elizabethneubauer said...

Well said.

Gail said...

Spot on!

Kat said...

I couldn't agree more. Although I love designing gardens for other people, I don't do it for myself. I garden for the plants. I don't really care if they make sense in a border. They are there because I love them and seeing them makes me happy.

hare majesteit said...

So true, if everyone did things the officially perfect way you suppose to do it according to the books, every garden has the same plants. BORING!!

My neighbour for instance, doesnt like my garden. Probably too chaotic for the lovers of maintainance free, and modern gardens.

When i walk trough my "chaotic and slobby" garden, every day i discover something new. Snowdrops, crocusses, narcisses, papavers(from small white and pastel ones to an mauve orientalis one who turned out to be red :S but i cant get it over my heart to get it out cause besides the color its a pretty flower), to nigella,to forget me not, to digitalis...

The joy of discovering something new in bloom, is what makes gardening fun for me, to watch the bees enjoy the paparver orientalis even when its mis-colored...

Nowadays people in this country (holland) choose lots of gravel and brick for their maintainance free gardens. Let them sow their gravel and their expensive stones an call my green garden ugly, i know better :)

lol it seems that this post triggered something in me, keep up the good work, and just plant everything you love, even if in the books they say you should't, cause gardening is experimenting, maybe youll discover the best combinations with your fresh point of view if you dont follow the rules :)