Gardening experience, for the most part, is accrued bit by bit, as decisions are made to do this chore before the other, plants die and we know why–or we don’t–and mental notes are made about what is blooming when. But every so often, the gardener has an epiphany, a light bulb moment. These milestones represent major shifts in the gardener’s modus operandi and are a significant component of what we call gardening wisdom–the mythical green thumb.
Today is a milestone birthday for me. I am older now than my grandmother was when I was born, which made her a grandma. Grey hair, bifocals–yep, I’m old enough to be a grandma. So I thought I’d share some of my gardening epiphanies with you, so you can take a shortcut to your own green thumb.
I had just moved into our first house, after a succession of apartments and a mobile home. Finally, I had a yard. But I didn’t want a yard, I wanted a garden! The only problem was, I didn’t know what made a yard feel like a garden. There is no one right answer; you have to find the answer in your heart. So I mulled over this as I washed dishes and pondered it as I cared for my children. One day I was flipping through a garden magazine and saw a photo that made me realize I needed to have a path for it to be a garden. Every outdoor space that held enchantment for me as a child had a path wending through it.
I had read about the need for varying foliage texture in a garden dozens of times without really grasping what was meant. An article in a garden magazine illustrated this concept with a greyscale photo–and suddenly I got it. Take the color out of a garden photo and all you have left is foliage texture. You will notice if the texture is all the same. Frances of Fairegarden calls it Little Leaf Syndrome. Texture keeps a garden interesting even when there are few flowers blooming.Take photos of your garden, convert them to greyscale, and see what you can learn.
I had heard of contrasting colors and complementary colors, but until I read Color Echoes: Harmonizing Color in the Garden by Pamela Harper I had never thought to use one plant to pick up and echo the color of another. I started to look at plants a lot more carefully–the green heart inside a yellow daylily, the red stems on a green fern–and search for plants that would highlight those subtle color details. Often they were already in my garden, and just needed to be moved around.
Not All Weeds Are Created Equal
Some weeds, especially tap-rooted ones, need to be pulled out on sight. Better yet, yesterday. And in my garden, dock is far worse than dandelion. I hate not finishing a task once I’ve begun. So if I’ve begun, say, pruning the roses, and if on my way back to the garden shed (to get the rose gloves I forgot) I see a dock seedling, I used to say “I’ll pull that when I’m done pruning the roses.” No more! Experience has taught me that I won’t remember the dock seedling after I am done with the roses, and the next time I see that weed I will have to dig to China and damage three garden-worthy plants in the process of getting it out.
How About You?
I could go on–you know how old folks ramble–but I’d like to hear about your garden epiphanies? What sudden insight made a big change in the way you garden?