All day today I’ve been thinking about Helen’s post on The Patient Gardener’s Weblog, which asks what’s more important—plants or design? In my response to Helen, I admitted I’m a design person but also noted that I’ve grown in my appreciation for plants, as well as authentic gardens (those in harmony with their surroundings and the gardener’s daily life).
After hours of pondering, here’s the essential truth: I don’t think I realized how much I like plants until I moved to a garden that doesn’t provide enough light to grow everything and anything I want.
I grew up in the country so my earliest memories are bound up with farm life…sitting on my grandfather’s lap while he graded chicken eggs, handing off tobacco leaves to my mother for tying, pulling a bucket of turnips for my grandmother…the list goes on and on.
And honestly, when I finished high school, I couldn’t wait to get away from all that. It wasn’t until Tim and I bought our first home that I gave gardening another thought. Now, nearly 30 years later, we’re on our 4th house and 4th garden.
The photos here show the suburban home we bought in November 2000 and sold in August 2011 just prior to moving to our current neighborhood closer to downtown Greenville. I remember the first months in this house, still unpacking boxes, when I gazed out the windows and imagined what the garden would become. I had very strong ideas about what I wanted, and though I made plenty of mistakes along the way, I never wavered in my vision.
In some respects, it was easy to impose my will on the landscape because it was such a blank slate. After the bulldozers left and the house was built, only foundation plants and lawn were added by the home’s original owners.
The only tricky part, really, was the slightly sloping backyard, and that problem was solved by Dabney Peeples (both friend and landscape designer) who suggested a retaining wall to flatten the area behind the house and separate it from an adjacent area with mature hardwood trees.
I miss this garden and the lovely views afforded by every window. But I don’t miss the hours it took to cut the grass, rake the gravel paths, water the containers and vegetable beds, and keep the flower borders tidy. Neither does Tim. Caring for this garden was a full job every weekend for two people.
What about the new garden? The simplest explanation is to say I’m still sorting it out. The landscape here has been cultivated by a succession of hands-on gardeners since the 1950’s and thus contains a wide range of plant material of various ages, growing conditions are vastly different, and perhaps most important, many of my notions about gardening are in transition.
Nonetheless, I’ll share the progress made in the new garden, such as it is, in my next post.