Bigger than life

Well, I must admit, after nearly two years of writing nothing for this web-site, I’m feeling a bit adrift and unsure of where to start. But I have been inspired to do something by a wonderful little poem recently sent to me by a long-out-of-touch friend from college days (in Wichita, Kansas) who now resides in my birth city of Santa Rosa, California. We’ve not been touch with each other for nigh on to 60 years, but, glad to say, it is a relationship that reignited with only a little effort and, now redeveloping with much joy and pleasure. She writes…

I spent my whole life
trying to be
bigger than Life.

Then I discovered
that Life was 
Bigger than me.

So I relaxed,
and made tea,
and planted roses.

Marcia Singer, August 29, 2005

I can think of no better way of being in the world than that – sharing beauty, in the form of other living things, with others. I really do believe that a plant placed in the ground will never be a private affair. Unshared gardens are really unloved gardens and nothing ever really propers without proper caring. 

I’m about a third of the way through ‘Demon Copperhead’ by Barbara Kingsolver (I strenuously recommend her book “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life”). It is thus far (fiction, by the way, with mostly truth behind it) a story of resilience and the miracle that we humans have survived at all, in spite of ourselves. My experience as a hospice nurse in southern Ohio informs my view – I’ve read nothing so far that I wouldn’t believe as 100% fact and it’s scary.  

I just re-read that paragraph and apologize for starting things off so dark!

My intent is the opposite. Unless it’s serious music (sorry, my prejudices are showing), there’s simply nothing quite like working in, thinking about, and looking at gardens to warm one’s innards and perk up one’s thoughts, a process usually sorely needed about this time of year in the ‘winter’ north! The garden here has been a source of balance, sanity and great pleasure the past two years, with last year being an especial source of joy – after twenty years of development, showing off delights at every turn. 

I am pleased to report that the greenhouse is holding fewer plants for overwintering (because they didn’t get planted when they should have) than it ever has! That’s just as well I suppose because we’ve done almost no clean-up whatever so far, choosing to leave most debris as a source of food and shelter for the many creatures who share the garden as home. This is one of the things that will happen to you if you start to view the garden as part of a much greater whole. I have so often been asked, who do you get so many butterflies and the answer is a single word: plants. Even this past year, which was a really down year for those creatures, produced an abundance of monarchs in the fall – mobbing the ‘Jindai’ asters by the dozens.

I don’t think I’m preaching any new doctrines here. I’ve always tried to take a broad view of the garden, its role in the wider picture of the land and the ways one can use to make its sloppy diversity as beautiful as anything contrived and formal. With a few areas as specialized exceptions (e.g., rock/gravel area, conifers, wildflower border), most of the garden is planted in a thoroughly mixed style: trees, shrubs and perennials all tossed in together with, hopefully, some sense of artistry and balance. The result is that there is no ‘peak’ time in this garden, per se, but rather an ongoing and continual unfolding as various things wax and wane in interest. A walk through the beds yesterday showed no fewer than a dozen different plants with either gold needles or bark, or flaking, peeling bark, or berries not yet dried up to the point that they are edible to birds; I expect to see the new shoots of hellebores sometime in the next couple of weeks. We added a half dozen of the new yellow ones last year and I’m certainly looking forward to that.  

This garden is open to the public daily, even in winter (for those souls brave or crazy enough to take advantage) for the very reason just given. I have often said that it should be one of the rules of good garden design that there be a surprise around every corner. I think that could also read: a surprise around every season. Hellebores, then spring bulbs, flowering shrubs and trees (some actually wait until July and August, but… know), the new growth of hostas, smelling the May roses, examining up close and personal the individual flowers of the day lilies over weeks and weeks and weeks, waiting for the heat of summer to produce the heated colors of perennial borders, the spectacular foliage displays of autumn and the late flowering pollinator attractants, the long season of the wildflowers, the September roses, the shapes of conifers in the snow and their winter color displays…..all this and more await the observant garden visitor, especially the ones who come more than once to see the parade of plant life unfold and march it’s way into the heart! 

Yours for a glorious 2023 in the garden – both this one and yours!