There is magic in a garden. In them, on rare occasions — when the moon shines upon a poppy revealing its gold interior, when a jasmine’s dance diffuses its dulcet aroma, when the music of stillness is a susurration of leaves — I sense eternity.
I seek out oases of greenery wherever I travel. I daydream in them. I unfocus my gaze upon the climbing vines of a morning-glory, I stare into the folds of a camellia and feel the universe pulling me towards its center.
Places of reverie are becoming more difficult to locate, but when I discover them the thrill of their memory lasts. I recall entering a botanical bower framed by ragged mountains in Cape Town. I remember stumbling upon a secret garden in New York City. I continue to reminisce about a floral cornucopia in Cap Ferrat.
Gardens have been my teachers. I have learnt patience while tending to vegetable, shrub, and tree. Cultivators have educated me to plant deep for sturdy root growth. Landscapers have shown me how to proportion soil and moisture for robust nourishment. I have acquired the language of flowers from cuttings in my neighbor’s yard: rosemary for remembrance, violets for innocence, gardenias for joy. In my great-aunt’s plot I have dabbled in the botany of herbs: yarrow as astringent, hawthorn as digestive, anise as expectorant. Every parsley sprig I have watered, each cucumber shoot I have mulched has taught me a life lesson.
I tussle with the dichotomy of gardening: our innate need to manipulate our environment versus our inability to control nature. I have helped kill slugs with pesticide, destroyed seedlings because they were considered undesirable. I have felt the mania of power while grafting, wept in frustration watching leaves wither from blight. I have slashed and burned, tugged and ripped all in the name of propagating a suitable horticultural framework.
Gardens have fueled my inspiration too. I have taken notes on color combinations, sketched parterre patterns for design ideas. The romance of rose beds hanging from a Mediterranean hillside has spurred my imagination. The composed poetry of raked gravel at zen courts has enlightened my meditations. The evocative blossom of a desert xeriscape has nurtured my creativity.
I remain in awe of that liminal space between the wild and the artificial in a garden. The boundary between our aspirations and nature’s process is forever shifting, altering how I perceive that which is untamed. My favorite gardens are the messy ones where the architect’s plan has given way to feral creepers grappling for dominance. Amid the overgrown, helter-skelter of tangled branches resides an ecosystem too intricate to comprehend. Why do certain varieties thrive on neglect while others wilt? What constitutes a weed? Is a geometric lawn more aesthetic than a bramble mayhem?
It is alongside such general contemplations of a garden’s beauty and resilience that I also discern individual complexity. The open-faced disc of a helianthus cradles not one but a thousand flowers. Dandelions attract more butterflies than hothouse blooms whose fragrance has been bred out of them in lieu of showy petals. A hydrangea’s hue changes with the acidity of its loam. All gardeners know that the perplexities of plant care are innumerable, yet I would not have it otherwise. There is so much beauty in the bewilderment. I have come to accept that I will never fathom a garden’s workings. In spite of this I abide by strict pruning schedules, juggle fluctuating nutrient levels, manage proper drainage hoping this season my efforts will bear fruit.
A single teaspoon of soil contains more than six billion microorganisms all of whom play their part in the foundation of life. To protect this fragile matrix from herbicides and pesticides gardeners apply organic mulch, weed by hand, and use companion planting techniques.
Do you have a favorite garden or plant? Would you like to share any gardening tips with me? Comment below.