Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Spring gardening

The recent warm weather has me thinking about my garden, and planning for spring. My garden is a source of relaxation, inspiration and personal pleasure but it has been an important supply store for my art. This year, for the first time, I am changing the way I garden by planning and planting specific flowers for new ideas I have for my Petal People cards. It reminds me of the following very old blog post. It's time to start a new chapter.

I never thought of my garden in this way, but when I read this quote, it made me smile. My garden truly is my autobiography. My fingerprints are in the soil, my design aesthetic is in the shape and color of the plants. But more than that, the origin of many of the plants are the main chapters of my autobiography.

When we first moved into our house many years ago, I knew the basics of gardening. But this scrubby little garden that I had inherited intimidated me. The front of the house was lined with ugly, forgotten evergreen bushes that needed aggressive pruning. An unhappy Holly bush — brown and dull instead of glossy — slouched beneath a steady roof drip during every rainstorm. Lily of the Valley choked out all other plants but still managed to look patchy and irritated. Behind the house lived two overgrown Privet, leggy and filled with suckers. A weedy lawn covered firmly-packed clay soil that wouldn't allow roots to breathe. And a run of chain link fence was supporting some kind of vine with huge, sharp thorns. Thorns is too nice a word. Long, unruly spikes of death.

I stared at this sad little garden and yard for a year or two before I got the courage to attack it. For some reason, I thought I had to re-plant the whole area into a beautiful, mature garden in one fell swoop, and this overwhelmed me into paralysis. (To be honest, I was also spending most of my energy and money on renovating the inside of the house.)

Something drove me over the edge one spring. On a beautiful day that called to me to dig, I tore out the Holly bush and transplanted an area of the Lily of the Valley. By the end of the summer, I had torn out all the straggly evergreens and transplanted the rest of the Lily of the Valley. (The best way to transplant Lily of the Valley? Cluster three plants together, tie the tap roots together and replant.) I also tore down the chain link fence and planted some lovely perennials.

At the same time, the extensive mature gardens that my parents had tended for several decades at my childhood home called to me. Whenever my folks divided their Irises, I took a basket full of bulbs and planted them along the base of my new wooden fence. When they bloomed, I expected a garden full of purple Irises but was surprised to see a yellow one here and there. My parents (who are only the fourth family to live in their 200+-year-old house) explained that those yellow flowers had a history. They were planted by the last generation of the family who built the house. I couldn't bear to pluck them out, knowing that they not only came from my childhood home, but from the families who had come before my own.

Next came the bee balm, angrily pulled out by my parents when these red flowers became too aggressive, choked out other plants spread too far. I had the perfect place for such a greedy plant, in an area against a sidewalk where I wouldn't mind if they tried to take over. I surrounded a shallow-rooted maple tree with a ring of Vinca, copying how my mom had done so decades earlier. Today, she enjoys thick rings that have grown out and joined together with nearby rings, creating a beautiful carpet of shiny green leaves. Next, I purchased a crabapple tree from a local nursery. I wrangled it into the ground to remind me of the one outside the kitchen window at my childhood home. Nothing makes me happier than to see it bursting in spring with deep burgundy blossoms every spring, signaling the warm summer days to come. One of the loveliest smells of my youth was the fragrance of lilacs, wafting into my bedroom through my open window, commingled with the sound of whippoorwills. (The thought of this memory makes my shoulders relax even now.) A graft from that lilac bush easily took in my own yard and has spread into a lovely bush.

I hope the stories behind all of these blooms translate into my art and my notecards, and customers feel the history and the love. I could tell you more: about the full round mops of Hydrangea; about the Scilla - with the sweet cobalt blue flower - that come soon after the snow departs; about the plant that my folks call "elephant ears" (but that I learned is actually a Mayapple) that love shade and moisture. They have happily stretched out all over the area where an unhappy Holly bush once hunched like a frown.

There's more to say, but instead, I think you should buy the book!

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