by Rhiannon Allen
As the season is about to change, I am reminded that gardens are living, ever-changing entities. We are yearly reminded of the ebb and flow of seasonal changes, the transition from dormancy to life, from flower to fruit. Beyond these seasonal changes, both natural factors and the gardener’s reactions shape the garden in a long-term dynamic process.
A book donated to my garden club’s lending library enhanced my appreciation of this process. From the title of Thalassa Cruso’s Making Things Grow Outdoors, I expected a how-to manual, but what I experienced was a journey through the lifetimes of the writer’s gardens.
As I turned the pages, I followed Cruso’s thoughts about aligning her efforts with her progressive understanding of the sites, their soil and degradation, microclimates, intrinsic identity and the natural changes of growth and decay. Important messages that Cruso imparts are patience, observation, consideration of what you can grow over what you want to grow, and a willingness to revise plans.
Following her advice, I learned not to bite my lip in disappointment as some garden plan went sideways, but instead to embrace mistakes and change as learning experiences. As she points out, hurried planting and landscaping can disrupt the natural evolution of a garden and can lead to well-intentioned errors by forcing a garden into a style not well suited to the site.
In my own garden, I have seen how natural factors and my own responses change a garden over time. My garden began with the shaping of a grassy south-facing privacy berm into a rock garden for full sun, drought-tolerant plantings. Over the years, the rock garden changed. Some plants, such as the Tradescantia I had loved in my east coast garden, just couldn’t tolerate the combination of full sun, poor soil and dry summers. It consequently had to be moved to shadier spots.
Other plants, like lavender, did well enough that I invested in more and more of them. Some plants liked the site so much that they overgrew their predicted size and rapidly overwhelmed the garden, forcing their relocation.
Reading about and visiting rock gardens led me to new plants and to using rocks as mulch. The rock garden now looks nothing like that grassy berm I started with, and in fact does not resemble the garden of only seven years ago. Is it finished? Unlikely. No garden is truly “finished.” I already know which plants I still want to move and which plants are nearing the end of their lifespan, and wonder what the garden will look like five years from now.
If you look at your own garden, I am sure that you will see a living history. Stop and observe the changes. Drink in the spirit of transformation. Gardens, like us, are living things. Just as we enjoy the growth of an individual plant, we should appreciate the growth of an entire garden. Celebrate how dynamic it is. There is as much pleasure in the process as in the result.