The number of horticultural and landscape gems hidden in local backyards astounds me.
I routinely make house calls, or rather yard and garden calls, to troubleshoot insect, disease and site issues. Every so often, I pull up to a nice, but fairly ordinary house, but am transported as soon as I enter the gardens tucked away in the back; drifts of brilliant blooms, foliage in rich colors and textures, and designs that compete with botanical gardens, making me feel like Alice stepping through the looking glass.
I always get a tour. As we amble through the garden, these avid gardeners tell me they’ve been working 10, 15 or 20 or more years in this particular garden. For the most part, these gardens blossomed after children grew up and moved out or in retirement, but most have been at least dabbling in the dirt for a better part of a lifetime.
I’ve seen many beautiful gardens designed by professionals, but the gardens that resonate with me the most are ones lovingly crafted over many years by these amateur gardeners. Often what strikes me most is the deep sense of personality, the reflection of the gardener’s tastes and preferences that these gardens contain. Each one is unique. Some focus on the flowers; annuals and perennials bloom spring to fall and are reminiscent of cottage gardens. Others focus on the greenery and have enough evergreens and strikingly colored foliage to make January look like Easter when the rest of the world is a gloomy gray. I’ve seen some that tend toward the tropical, with lush houseplants pulled out of greenhouses each summer and returned each fall. Whatever style influences, these gardens are everything but common.
And then there is the plant selection. Landscapes installed all in one go are subject to the plant trends of the day. The gardens I love are built slowly, and all of the plants have stories and histories and memories attached to them; a birthday present, a pass-along plant from a great-grandmother’s yard, a special find at a trip to a favorite nursery. Listening to gardeners talk about their plants reminds me of hearing family histories sitting on a back porch; they are stories to be kept. And I do; I often find I remember people’s yards and plants better than I remember their faces.
For several years, as much as I loved to garden, my gardens were also a source of stress. There was never enough time to do what I thought needed to be done; always too many weeds, not enough blooms, fall tasks pushed to spring pushed to next fall, and generally a lack of similarity to my Pinterest gardening boards. The expectation of having my yard look like a farm and garden magazine was sapping my joy faster than a vine borer can flatten summer squash. Visiting in the 20-year gardens has allowed me to enjoy gardening more; to accept and enjoy the forced slowness born of full-time jobs and domestic necessities. This spring I am glorying in every new leaf and bud, pulling out some weeds, but deciding I like the flowers of others enough to just wait a while, and taking refuge daily as a response to every emotion, high or low.
Wherever you are, for what is for many of us a period of waiting, I hope you are working some on your own 20-year gardens. A little weeding, a little pruning, seed starting, maybe dividing some plants. If there is anything I have learned from the 20-year gardens and their respective gardeners is that your own garden is about the best place you can be, no matter what is going on in the world around you.