There’s something about the way the sunshine angles down now, and the clarity of the light itself, that’s a subtle but noticeable difference from summer. It’s a great time to be outdoors and gardening… there aren’t so many urgent tasks, the cool nights have revived plants that seemed tired out by the heat of late summer, and suddenly it feels good to be sitting in the mid-day sun.
I love the morning fog too, adding softness and a touch of mystery to even my most mundane plantings. It’s hard to say whether I favor this time of year because so many things reach their peak now, or if I’ve unconsciously chosen plants that have late season interest because I love September. Chicken or egg, I suppose.
At any rate, we seem to have an August/September garden, and we’re enjoying it very much right now. It was an honor and a pleasure to share the moment with a group of twenty-five avid gardeners last Saturday, through the Garden Conservancy’s “Digging Deeper” program.
I’d been asked a couple of times to consider being on Open Days, but I declined because I had the impression that most Open Days visitors were looking to be “wowed”. I don’t have a wow garden. Interesting, perhaps, and quirky, definitely. But not wow.
Also, I’m a very private person, an introvert really. So I’ve always struggled to be more open, to push myself to engage with other people in a way that seems contrary to my natural inclinations.
And I was a little put off by a group I invited to see my previous garden, years ago. No one was rude, of course, but there was disappointment (“Oh, no water feature?”) and some subtle digs (“Hmmm…pink and yellow, such a tricky combination to pull off well.”)
But I had a feeling the Digging Deeper group would be different, as indeed they were. Avid gardeners all, but at every level of experience, making for a lively dynamic and lots of cross-fertilizing advice and enthusiastic participation.
The focus was on scaling down naturalistic planting concepts to a level that suits most of us, average gardeners with modest means and minimal acreage. So we looked mainly at my 3-year program of wet meadow planting and how that project is progressing. But of course, they were also shown just about every other planting here, from the sunny dry terraces to the propagation beds, to the failed meadow planting (which actually doesn’t look too bad) that my husband dubbed “The Wilderness”.
Offering your creative efforts up to the critical gaze of truly experienced gardeners is a bit daunting, but gardeners are, in general, kind people. Those with depth of experience always have interesting perspectives and really valuable suggestions to make. And it’s wonderful to see that spark of enlightenment in a novice who realizes that one doesn’t have to be a conventional gardener, that there’s so much more to real gardening than foundation shrubs, mulch, and the annual disposable hanging basket.
And so connections were made, plants shared, and friendships forged. It seems enjoyment was had all round, and I’ve even received several hand-written (imagine that!) thank-you notes.
All in all it was such a positive experience for me that I think I’ve finally turned the corner in terms of opening our garden to visitors, in some capacity, in the future.
We will never have the stylish houses, or the spectacular views, or the perfectly trimmed hedges and edges of some of our friends. But what I think our garden offers that’s meaningful for many people is relatability. That’s what I saw sparkling in the eyes of the newest gardeners: the revelation that a satisfying garden can be created, over time, on a limited budget and with only minimal professional help.
So the fact that it’s far from a perfect garden is actually its strength. There are weeds, there are gaps, there are wavering edges and failed attempts. There are areas abandoned to their fate because I’ve lost interest. But real gardeners understand all this, sympathize, and relate.
This lovely month has been a moment in the cycle of the year, to be savored fully but never to be captured, held, suspended. A garden, I’ve come to understand, is a process, not an end result. For me it’s a laboratory, a playground, and a refuge. And if this garden also helps me make connections to other people, both intellectually and emotionally, then really, what more can I ask of it?
Welcome to Sempervivum, an opinionated, sometimes informed and completely unqualified journal of gardens, plants and plantings by artist-gardener Robert Clyde Anderson.