I gave up competitive gardening.
That’s how I describe the continental drift in my attitude toward my garden. This has nothing to do with how hard I’m willing to work, nor how long. It has everything to do with how I want to feel. Here, at home, I want to cultivate calm, a sense of spaciousness in which to wonder and observe, an invitation to relax, a measure of delight, and an honest welcome. Yes, and I want to plant food. I might die doing all this, but I certainly don’t want to kill myself over it. You can appreciate the difference.
Before, when I was in the middle of making the previous garden, I wanted to create a landscape that set standards, that shouted “This is Colorado!” I wanted outrageous beauty, a stellar collection of unusual plants, wild success, and the admiration of others – especially those others who know a great garden. At times it seemed I would have died for this.
In 2007, a week before the Fourth and heading into what was bound to be the most brilliant lily season yet, that garden was shattered by hail. Already exhausted, my heart broke. I had to photograph the destruction, and then I couldn’t look at it for many days. Entering that grief, embracing the suchness of the garden in shambles, undid my mooring and set me on my current course.
Now, having docked for whatever time I’m here, I want to fit in and still freely express myself. I feel no sense of contradiction, no restriction other than practical ones, well, like money.
So what’s my plan?
Everyone has asked me. The most honest answer: I don’t know. This is such a new approach in such a different venue, that I can’t know. But I can discover.
When I moved in, the long parking median on the south side of the lot had once been converted to a flower garden and had been let go. Alright, that’s too kind. It was derelict. I didn’t even know it was a garden at first. Comprised of just over 900 square feet, I figured it was garden enough for my first year. I would clean it up, divide the huge colonies of iris, throw in giveaways from other gardens, and cast a few seeds. Oh, and the empty planter wrapping the southeast corner of the house could be made into an elevated rock garden. Simple enough. As to the rest of the place: I’d buy an electric lawn mower.
About a year ago, I started deviating. Looking out the window of my studio, I could see a rectilinear theme with shrubs and peonies and no rocks nor junipers (though I love them) and everything in shades of red, coral, and creamy yellow. It persisted in getting my attention. So I smothered the front lawn.
In mid-summer, while mowing the back yard, I yearned for a table under the awning of the crab apple. Never mind the huge brush pile from all the dead limbs and weed trees I had cleared and tossed in the center of the yard. That would all be gone someday. As soon as I had a table, there would be meals and friends and wine. It would be just like back gardens in Switzerland, full of leisure and laughter and linens. I extolled this dream to my friends, who all had great suggestions. Then one dear heart, downsizing her patio furniture, made the dream come true. One shining night, under a full moon, we planted the dream of many shared and pleasant meals right under the crab.
No place to store it for winter, the table has stayed put. When I look out from the window over the kitchen sink, friends always surround it.