There is a plaque on the wall in the room where I toss my muddy boots after tramping in dirt all day that states: “Show me your garden and I shall tell you what you are?” I forget where the plaque came from, and I’ve never quite believed that philosophy; just never got around to taking it down.
I do know the thought was penned by English poet Alfred Austin, who sounds almost cranky on the subject; he doesn’t ask “who” you are but “what” you are – which can normally include a six-beer discussion, or a $500-an-hour psychiatrist.
His prelude to that question also seems a little over the top, but, ah, flowery language seemed the rule in the late 1800s.
The glory of gardening: hands in dirt, head in the sun, (This was before sunscreen) heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just on the body, but the soul. Share the botanical bliss of gardeners through the ages who have cultivated philosophies to apply to their own – and our own – lives: Show me your garden and I shall tell you what you are.
Well sure, Al. I’m about 6 feet 4, 240 pounds, still drink too much Coke, lean left on politics, have a soft spot for fragrant viburnums and I love to garden.
More to his point, I’m also a huge believer in reading as much as I can about new plants, visiting every cool garden I can, but never feeling any real obligation to follow what other gardeners love, practice or preach.
Just today I planted two shrubs – a Cape honeysuckle and Texas sage – that have no chance of surviving our winters: they’ll have to be dug up and stuffed in our already full greenhouse.
But the honeysuckle – yes, it’s a monster spreader – has bright orange flowers, and the Texas sage has cool blue flowers and apparently will thrive in the Mohave Desert.
Plus, we lived in Texas several years and made some great friends. So prickly sage and too-friendly-honeysuckle are now side-by-side in our new tropical garden – more on that in a future FarmerBobBlog.
The bottom line: Sure, you have to follow some basic rules of the right sun, soil and watering, but it’s your garden. You’re buying the rakes, shovels, clippers, bagged compost and fertilizer. You are sweating late frosts, droughts and blister beetles.
Basically, if you haven’t killed a plant or three every year you’re just not trying. Do not be afraid to experiment. We renew entire plant beds every few years, particularly if what used to be full sun has been transformed to partial to full shade by the surprising success of whatever tree you planted too close to it.
Adding injury to insult, many of the newer cultivars of perennials – and they are being cranked out in plant company test gardens every 15 seconds – are not the least bit perennial.
We’re also learning that many supposedly “bullet proof” shrubs – read ‘Knock Out’ roses – are just as susceptible to disease and bugs as the others.
Try something new. Learn to adapt. Add some yard art. Steal from your friends. Plant what makes you happy. The neighbors might get a little upset if that runs toward giant sunflowers, opuntia cactus and purple deadnettle but that’s what neighborhood associations are for.
To paraphrase Al Austin, show me your garden and I’ll show you an eternal work in progress. It’s who you are that matters – not what.