In My Garden Grows
By Alison Cross
I have never been a “real” gardener, at least not in the traditional sense. I grasp very little about gardening basics; I don’t plan ahead, or practice a modicum of patience. I don’t follow seasonal guidelines for optimal planting. I plant seedlings only inches apart, risking end-of-season crowding. I transplant things before they’ve bloomed, risking no blooms. I cut flowers when the stems are wet, risking disease. I plant shade plants in the sun, and sun plants in the shade. I prune when things simply look in need of it. I don’t fertilize, subsidize, or otherwise anesthetize my flower beds.
And yet. In my garden grows the most spectacular varieties of flowers, blooming shrubs, rich leafy greens and massive stretches of ground cover. My garden exhibits a profusion of color, blossoms with velvety petals and buttery smells, blooms which make their appearance all season long. Throughout this untamed, rough-and-tumble space, I have nurtured exotic ferns, wild mosses and tall grasses – all in myriad hues and textures.
I do not belong to a Gardening Club, a Horticultural Society or any other botanically-inclined organization. I follow so few conventions that my gardening techniques would likely be considered shameful, even appalling (quite possibly illegal, given some of the cuttings I’ve pilfered from forests near and far!). Were I to be accepted into such a Club, in all likelihood – as happened one ill-fated day in my second year as a Girl Scout – I would be asked to “discontinue membership”, due to my “failure to adhere to the tenets of responsible gardening”.
And yet. In my garden grows an abundance of formal and free-flowing plantings. There are no tidy rows of single specimens; no well behaved borders or isolated stands. Irises are juxtapositioned with rhododendron; roses with asters; daisies with snap dragons; bee balm with elderberry. Grasses sprout up in the midst of bleeding hearts. Coneflowers appear to reach the sky. Shasta daisies are staggered in height like joyful notes on a sheet of music. Plants propagate happily among the organized chaos, creating a cacophony of color and intoxicating scents.
I am not well-read in the subject of gardening; my knowledge base is shallow at best. I won’t confess as to how long it took for me to understand the difference between a perennial (which returns every year) and an annual (which needs to be planted every year). While I have acquired several gardening books and magazines over the years, I have yet to crack their covers. The lovely leather-bound gardening journal my husband gave me, for planning and recording purposes, remains on my desk untouched. I simply have no idea what to enter into it, nor the patience with which to draw up plans.
And yet. In my garden grows everything as I have envisioned it. I somehow recall all (okay, most) of the names of the plants; how large they will likely grow each season; how long their blooms will last; and whether or not they are prone to disease. I know which plants like “wet feet”; which need air to breathe; which will live in harmony together. My garden is a well fed ecosystem that draws in wonderful wild life, including hummingbirds and butterflies.
My single attempt to follow the tip of a gardening guru failed miserably. I’d read that one could intensify the color of blue hydrangeas by applying aluminum sulfate to the soil (creating an acidic environment). In my eagerness to manipulate nature, I exposed my hydrangeas to a chemical burn, the results of which looked nothing short of a nuclear disaster. Desperately seeking counsel from my local nursery, I was informed that my best option was to uproot and replace them all.
And yet. In my garden grows an elegant row of Lime Light hydrangeas, humongous and stately Pinky Winky hydrangeas, and, alas, an impressive display of vibrant, blue, Endless Summer hydrangeas. They enjoy the company of pink peonies, yellow roses, indigo irises and magenta phlox. They cascade over stone walls, dwarf a hedge of evergreens, announce the entrance to the garden.
Like a painter who creates from a vision in her mind’s eye, whose compositions come to life instinctively, I see my garden as my canvas. I have come to accept that I will never be a traditional gardener; my advice will not be sought; my perennial beds will not be replicated. Rather, I will continue to be guided by intuition; to nurture with love and a light hand; to rely on the powers of botanical karma. Because the results are spectacular. So much beauty and energy, in my garden grows.