This is my garden summer. If you follow me on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, you will quickly see that my posts have become progressively more vegetable and flower filled. In fact, that’s where I was just before sitting down to write this column: out in my garden, procrastinating with a hose and trowel under the auspice of these weeds can’t wait; then further distracted in my Google search on “How to get rid of June bugs on my roses?” (Answer: Neems oil!)
To most, it’s far from novel, in either of Webster’s definitions. But you must understand, this is my first garden. Yes, in all my life. So I pray you pardon my social media exclamations over squash blossoms, sprigs of basil, hydrangea plumes, and zinnias. Planting roots was never part of the gypsy life. Plus, for nearly a decade, we lived in El Paso where gardens were made of rocks and a handful of thorny desert rose bushes. When we moved, one of my biggest, ugly cries took place in my rose garden. It had brought me joy, comfort, and beauty when I needed it, and now I was leaving. It hurt—to have put so much time, energy, and love into something that I had to walk away from.
I had the added truth that every plant I had purchased or been gifted withered and died. I was grateful to friends who sent me constant replenishment. They knew me well—knew that I adore flowers. They are among my most favorite things on earth. But my black thumb was tried and true. For nearly four decades, I favored annuals. They came with a designated “going to die” stamp. Succulents were kind to me. They stayed around a little longer than the rest.
Then I moved to North Carolina. We built a farmhouse. We planted ourselves and wintered into our new home. This spring, we got our sod. Gorgeous stuff. I knew grass could thrive wild, but when it came to the gardens, I was terrified. Initially, I thought the safest route would be to put down river rock—everywhere. But then my mother reminded me of two things: 1) I come from green thumb people. My father’s kin were Oklahoma farmers and my mother is the daughter of a farming legacy in Puerto Rico. It was in my DNA… somewhere. 2) Planting a garden was not much different than writing a book. If I could do one, I could do the other, she said.
I argued against both. “DNA skips generations,” I told her, and a book and a garden were vastly different. For starters, a book was constructed in my temperature-controlled, weatherproofed writing office. A garden was open to Mother Nature’s whims. While I had no control over the former, I had a hand in the latter. I decided to give it a go. If only to say I had tried and look, more dead things.
I sat down with our landscaper and sketched out the basic property outline. Next, we moved to focal zones: the right side terrace, the backyard row, the left side circle; the front rose line, etc. I began to wonder if my mother wasn’t on to something. Go figure. I saw each area as a kind of chapter. In each, we determined the plant characters that would flourish best for the overall garden aesthetic.
My landscaper asked me, “What’s the message of your garden?” The message? I never realized gardens had messages to proffer. [Read more…]