It’s true I have a taste for abstractions and this morning as I try to admire the scene out of my back window the subject of climate change nags and fusses to be noticed. Our back garden was, and continues to be, a compromise between two different ideas of what constitutes a beautiful, or even acceptable, garden.
Since Betsy grew up and out grew the early tumble-down of her first bedroom and went to graduate school, she has become a square corners type of person, which means to her that her garden needs perfect balancing–a spruce to the right means a spruce on the left, and the placement of all the plants in what I think of as a version of the same rigid order. The problem with this is that she is faced with me as a partner in the project, and although I enjoy, and can even admire, her orderly ways, I don’t seem able to summon the discipline needed to complete a neat plan she may have conceived and possibly has already begun to implement. Next thing you know scarlet poppies are dancing in the wind next to purple aliums that wave on their stems like lollipops for giants.It makes me smile, and I think, Why that’s not so bad.
The answer to this is all in language. We have a name to describe our garden. It is a wild herb garden, a name which can umbrella the elements and make them delightful. Nature has given Betsy many priorities for order. Nature has required that the May Apples she has brought over from the high school must be planted up in our little woods, where she has also put in some Solomon’s Seal and big hosta. The chickens have done their part, too. Although I hate giving them any credit, I have to admit that they have scratched the leaves to dust and created an ideal spot for these plants to thrive under the maple and beech trees that make our little forest.
Our house is at the bottom of a hill that belongs to the city. The hill has decreed another rule that can’t be broken. If we are going to have a garden up a hill, it must be terraced, and once again Betsy is favored by the three terraces. But here, before Betsy had a chance to make her plan I had interfered with it. I planted h on one end of the third terrace at the same time she planted daffodils and tulips around the bottom of the circular rock wall. How I wish I had paid closer attention to the false nature of this intuition and more to the facts. The hosta has moved in around the wall, marches steadily toward the left, obliterates the interesting rock face of the wall and does nothing to anticipate Jim’s small waterfall and fish pond. The tulips were eaten by predator chickens, the daffodils droop and fall down among wood hyacinths that are outcrowding the other bulbs. I can report that the whole thing will have to be redone.
I go into this detail to explain how Betsy and I work together and how the results can surprise us. But let me add now that the results are often serendipidous and very satisfactory to me, the lover of the abstract. and to Betsy sometimes a disappointment. It is why I mention it in the morning when I first look out of my window. As soon as spring starts I can admire a new scene nearly every day. A little red appears, over there on he right, the scarlet edge of a blooming poppy on the left bed. Further up the hill is the shack the boys built with Jim when they were six or seven years old. The path curves up to that The pear tree is in bloom and makes an exclamation point to the whole and it makes me happy. These variations of leaf color from lime to forest green, these shapes of plants and the beginnings of the perennial blooms remind me of Monet’s water lilies in their great diversity and mad interactions.
Getting up close can be a different story. Now I have to worry a bit about some evergreen die back. It looks as if a fungus is at work. What happened to the white and yellow day lily I planted last year, and oh horrors, the pansies, all thousands of them are going to have to be deadheaded. I do think I see what is required, a short view that picks up the details you need to take care of to make sure that the person sitting on the patio is getting the experience she was hoping for when she sat down with a gin and tonic in her hand and optimism in her heart.