I am a haphazard gardener. I mean to be more intentional, more faithful, more disciplined. I was once years ago. I admire the gardens of people who are still. The gentle firework explosion of soft color that is an English country garden is the ideal that lives in my heart as I go about my casual gardening life.
I visit nurseries and look at catalogs and pore over seed packages that are sprouting in stores everywhere. I buy the limitless potential of tiny brown specks promised by the shiny perfection of pictures. I adopt tender plants just beginning to show their true colors. And I even get most of them planted, with love and care and lots of food.
From that point on, however, my attention is a hit and miss thing. Weeding happens on sunny mornings that are not too hot and not too cold when I'm not busy doing something more satisfying. Watering happens when Walt gets to it. Feeding is a once a year thing, with heartfelt and unkept promises to do more.
I stopped vegetable gardening years ago when I made the connection between the coincidence of the beginning of the school year and every single thing in the garden coming ripe and needing attention. The choice was kids or corn, and the kids won.
So vegetables got replaced with flowers. Annuals at first because of the bright, endless show of color throughout the summer. Perennials later because, while the flowering season is shorter, the plants don't die. Mostly. And the variety tickles my soul in a place that petunias don't quite touch.
The result of my benign neglect is a garden that never ceases to surprise and delight. My front bed is full of crocuses right now, ten times more than I originally planted. Somehow the yellow ones have disappeared over the years, but the purple and white that survived don't seem to miss them. Tender lambs' ears are starting to fill in a corner, providing a soft gray contrast to the vivid shout of crocus color. It's early enough in the season that I can ignore their intention to take over the entire bed and just enjoy their innocent newness for now.
Hyacinth fingers are just beginning to show here and there, tantalizing me with their promise of handfuls of fragrant rockets of pink and purple and white and yellow. Daffodil buds sprout everywhere, waiting for the spring sun to appear and ignite their brilliant fire.
As I wander the yard, I see shoots of day lily leaves braving air that still holds the cranky bite of winter. My leggy, untamed forsythia, more yellow every day, is entwined with the flowering quince, equally unkempt, just beginning to hint at the fuchsia glory that is its unique signature. The waxy green island of vinca in the middle of our driveway offers a few bright blue stars on the edges of its shores, scouts for the invasion that will overrun the island soon. Farther on, gray-green needles yield the essence of lavender to the warm friction of my fingers, promising much much more when the warmth of the sun can be relied on.
The brittle brown remains of last year's garden have not dissolved completely back into the earth, even after the harsh pounding of the winter still clinging stubbornly to the air. I'm going to have to remove the bodies myself, or let their dead weight smother the more tender flowers still waiting to emerge: Bleeding heart. Penstemon. Jupiter's beard. Peony. Coreopsis. Phlox. Pink. Shasta Daisy. Cone flower. Bee balm. And I need to make room for flowers that help define summer with their reassuring and reliable sameness: Petunia. Sweet pea. Marigold. Snap dragon. Alyssum. Cosmos. Nasturtium. Pansy. Zinnia.
Haphazard seems to be working. For now at least. My garden needs much less of me than I once thought. Of course the more attention I give it, the richer it is. But there is something about the wild surprise of nature left to fend for herself that is much more satisfying. It's the letting go of control, and seeing how much I can release before it becomes abandonment that fascinates. It's one more layer of learning to listen to the quiet voice rather than jumping to the strident insistent demands of the loud one. It's a special kind of freedom.
photo from Flickr