Our Gardens, Ourselves

Recently, I was talking to a friend about spring cleaning in the garden and the conversation meandered to the subject of aging; namely that we just didn’t seem to be able to work continuously from 7:00am to 7:00pm anymore, or to lift bags of soil or tubs of stones with ease, as we once could. Our gardens, and our gardening styles, must change to accommodate our abilities as well as our tastes.

She and her husband have been gardening their plot for more than 30 years. Most of our garden was destroyed when we added onto the house about six years ago, so it is relatively new. We have about the same size lots, but each of us has a very different gardening style and philosophy. What we do share in common, however, is that we want to do all of the gardening ourselves.

Not everyone does. I recall a cardiologist I visited who was already a grandma several times over. She wanted a mature garden before she was too old to enjoy it. So she hired a local landscape architect, a petite, middle-aged, wiry woman who looked as if she ran marathons three or four times a week. Their collaboration produced an exquisite garden that seemed as if it had always been there. Small trees and mature shrubs were moved from the front yard to the back; an old, awkwardly-placed garage morphed into a three-season garden house with a working fireplace; and a side porch became a secret garden of Victorian antique wicker furniture and flowering plants, where one could observe the entire garden without being observed. Now the landscaper is still called in to do the heavy work, but the doctor putters on weekends and days off, planting her own annuals and perennials.

Other gardeners I’ve met have hired a landscape architect to design the garden and produce the plans and plant list, but then did all of the planting themselves in phases, over a period of years.

This year, I’ve gone back to my roots, so to speak, and planted seeds --- for the first time in about 35 years --- a sport of wild columbine that blooms purple, in full sun, and grew three feet wide; a few morning glories for the new rose arbor; lettuce and cherry tomatoes; etc. I’m also planning to get seeds of some heirloom tomatoes that I discovered at a tomato tasting last year. And I want to air-layer some un-labeled rhodies we bought on sale 15 years ago, and to try my hand at rooting a delphinium and a few other perennials that have gone out of style.

Whether you are staring at blank front and back yards of topsoil in a new development, or just feel the need for a change in a mature garden, make sure to put yourself into the picture, even if you hire professionals to do most of the work. Fashions in gardening come and go, but our gardens are one of the most intimate expressions of ourselves that we will ever have the opportunity to create.

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