Several years ago I read a book called ‘The Gin and Tonic Gardener; Confessions of a Reformed Compulsive Gardener” by Janice Wells. It was a mostly silly little book that inspired me to take time to just sit in my garden. While I have forgotten much of the book, there are ideas from it that have really hung on. I’ve often thought about how great it would be to have the type of garden that just sort of managed itself, a garden a person could just go out and enjoy. The image of what that looked like was ever-present in my mind, but it’s never really been the garden I had…Until this year.
I’ve talked about how I lost my gardens with my divorce, and how I found them again first in a community garden and then later in my yard. Over the past five Summers I have abandoned the concept of a restful garden space altogether really. I have dug out huge swaths of yard turning the grass into compost and the space left behind into beds heavy with blooms, vines, and leaves. There hasn’t been a year since we’ve moved here that I haven’t added some crazy large plot of garden to my suburban yard. I’ve loved every minute of it, but let me tell you there were not a lot of cocktails sipped casually among the phlox or the roses. Sure, I rested out there, sat and admired my work, enjoyed moments of peace. I was often, if not always, thinking of the next thing I would work on.
This year there has been a shift in focus. I have not dreamed up a new place or way to garden, I haven’t decided to divide all of the perennials or to scour Craigslist for folks giving away plants. Obviously the time we’ve spent adventuring is a part of it. When you are gone for several days (or weeks) each month it is hard to give attention to your flowers. More than that though I have made conscious effort to not. To not get involved in any new garden planning or planting, to not move or divide or accept new plants.
I did put in a few veggies this Spring, it’s hard not to. The farmers market got me one early Saturday with thyme and tomatoes. Another day I picked up a six-pack of peppers. I started a few cantaloupe and a watermelon in a sunny sill. I felt I would miss these few things for sure once Autumn and harvest came around. I will also admit to accepting and digging in some fruit shrubs and possibly some kale from gardening friends, but honestly, these were minor additions in comparisons to what I usually get involved with. As I read back over these words I can see that perhaps I should go back to that book…my compulsiveness is showing.
Each time I came home from adventuring I would walk through my gardens to see what was blooming, what was spent, what was getting ready. I looked to see if berries were ripe, if anything needed watering, if some new-from-last-year plant was coming in happily. I didn’t weed. I didn’t turn soil. I didn’t cut back or deadhead. I feel a twinge of guilt just writing those things out. I suppose it comes back to the loss, I don’t want to seem ungrateful for the garden that I have now. I feel like I should deeply invest in it with physical work so that the earth doesn’t forget that I’m here. That seems a teensy bit crazy I’m sure.
This Summer though, I have given the gardens free reign. I have allowed them to spill out over paths. I have snipped heavy blooms, that have decided their heads look best in the mulch, and brought them into my house, into my camper, and onto the deck where they have brought numerous smiles to my face. I have said, out-loud, that I’m only cutting half of the oregano, so that it can flower and the bees can enjoy it, but really it was so that I didn’t have too much to dry and chop. I have let the camper block my view of the little garden on the West side of my driveway. This allows me to not do so many garden tasks that really need to be done, simply because I don’t look at it regularly.
I will insert here that this past weekend I did have super high hopes of doing some actual gardening. My husband was supposed to be away and I was going to move plants, to create a sitting area for when our camper is in the driveway. I worked super hard on this project for about three hours while my teeny and my sick little guy napped away the afternoon. But that was it, my husband ended up coming home later that same day, my sick child became sicker, and there were many normal needs to be tended on top of that. I’ve gone out to look at the half finished space several times this past week as the heat has spiked close to 90 and I’m reminded of the crazy gardener that I am to move plants in mid-July.
While I have had that lingering guilt, I have also really, really loved it. I have had time to look for tons of caterpillars with my tiny. I have sat on the deck with my man in the middle of the afternoon and drank a beer, or possibly two. I have let my dog drink from the pond, roll in the wild lilies, and sleep in the shade of the tall-flower beds It has been so good to just be in the garden, to pick berries and admire lilies and watch how the different colors of peonies all open on a slightly different date. I’ve quite enjoyed simply enjoying my garden.
I’ll have to get back over there, to that side garden, the work needs to be done so that the neighbors at least don’t have to look at the mess that the space is for too much longer. Someone gave me some iris recently, they’ll finish filling the space nicely I think, or perhaps I’ll move some evening primrose, or more day lilies. For today, with rain in the forecast, I am happy to pour coffee and cream into a cup, and walk through the yard to see what flowers will open today, if my orange lilies have all fallen and if there are any new blooms on the white rose bush.
When I think about that little book and how I found myself lucky enough to have a garden to sip rum in, I just have to smile. It has been a twisting path, and has taken a ton of hard work, to get to this place where I can just sit in the grass and admire the effort. I’m grateful to be here, in this Summer, in this yard, with a drink in my hand instead of a shovel.