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In the Garden

Garden-purple-BTThere 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. 

Garden-stem-BTI 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.

Garden-flower-BTPlaces 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.

Garden-pepper-BTGardens 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.

Garden-bee-BTI 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.

Red-Rock-cactusGardens 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.

Garden-yellow-BTI 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?

Garden-pink-BTIt 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.Garden-orange-BT


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.


130 replies »

  1. I clicked on the box with the California poppy and was brought to this garden post. My favorite photo is of the bee on the zinna — but all the photos are stellar. Thank you!

  2. “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.” That’s the key, isn’t it? The constant change in that wild/tame mix is bracing, bewildering, magic. 🙂

  3. You have beautifully and poetically described the needs of the garden. I also don’t know why, as if it is necessary, we should stick to the rules of mankind and not to the laws of nature !? The more you let nature take its course, the better it becomes. The more we get involved, despite our good intentions … The worse it is with nature! I have enjoyed both your description / story and the images … 🙂
    Warm regards, Heidi

    • Thank you Heidi, for your own poetic thoughts regarding nature. Humans have always wanted to possess and reformat and place their mark upon the environment. Though we are a part of nature, we often do not feel this to be true. I too hope, however, that we can realign ourselves a bit more to thinking in the ways of the earth.

  4. Oh, how you must harden your heart to destroy seedlings.
    Now I am well enough known in my neighborhood that people line up on social media for my fabulous cast offs…but it is so hard to yank my flower babies when they get out of line.

  5. I’ve often grappled with that same question, what constitutes a weed. I don’t know. A flower is a flower. A plant is a plant. Lovely photos.

  6. I too, love your ‘travels’ through the garden, These are thoughts to inspire all of us who garden, leaving a ‘garden gate’ open to enjoy the countryside outside as well. Thank you.

    • It’s been a pleasure to have so many gardeners and fellow garden lovers share their perspectives. I very much believe that gardens can be our portal to a better relationship with nature, and so I love your advice of “leaving a ‘garden gate’ open to enjoy the countryside.”

  7. I loved all the photos in this post, and your thoughts on gardening make me wish that I had a place to plant a garden again, as I learned the same lessons that you did through gardening.

  8. I live by the river and spend time trimming more than planting. I nurture what grows naturally. I like to use a small pair of hand clippers rather than any type of motorized tool. It takes forever to clip down each vertical sapling that sprouts from the exposed cottonwood roots each year. It’s much gentler to cut each cleanly rather than shred cut with a power trimmer. My neighbors probably think I’m crazy. But in the hours I see and hear birds and of course enjoy the riverside instead of enduring an hour loud buzzing, shredding and grinding and feeling I’ve destroyed something rather than learning its nature.
    I do some planting each year by watching the columbines (a favorite of mine) for when the seed pods are ready. I then spill them directly into the garden by the others to thicken the growth instead of letting them disperse willy-nilly. I also collected some from the back yard and scattered them in the front garden and have been thickening the growth there for several years now. They spread on their own as well, of course and instead of pulling up the ones that grew outside the rock border, I’ve adapted to borders to include the area they prefer most. I have a gorgeous, I would say riotous display of blooms each year to enjoy.
    I especially liked your line: There is so much beauty in the bewilderment. That’s indeed what I like best about growing things.

      • Yes, I guess I look at gardening and yardwork as being a steward of what’s growing rather than the ‘playing god’ aspects you spoke of. It does make my yard of the more free-flowing type, and I’m sure some would consider it weedy. Though I try to maintain borders and sections to give some sense of order. Thanks for the reply to my comment.

      • 😲 Wow! The “vegan athlete’s” garden was amazing! Thank you so much for the link. This was such a treat! I haven’t visited too many edible gardens, so I’m intrigued to look into this further.

      • My pleasure, I thought it was pretty incredible myself! ..and it looks like he lives in a neighborhood. I think that’s somewhat even more appealing, and kind of more doable for us regular people 🙂

  9. I share your love of gardens. They are my respite on land. Your New York post made me homesick. I eagerly sought out those beautiful spaces when living there, and Central Park was my backyard. My favorite gardens are the same as yours ‘the messy ones where the architect’s plan has given way to feral creepers grappling for dominance’. What a perfect anchor for your latest travel journal (Gardens). I’ve just treated myself to a copy. Ahoy from Sri Lanka.

    • Ah, having Central Park for a backyard must have been amazing! It wasn’t until I discovered it and other green spaces in NYC that I actually grew to like the city. I deeply appreciate your purchasing a copy of my Gardens Journal. I hope you enjoy it while you are in Sri Lanka!

  10. Cheers to finding pockets of reverie while out and about…I have much to learn in the garden. I hope to carve out more time there in the future. Happy gardening.

  11. I find it astounding that six billion microorganisms are in a teaspoon of soil. It truly brings home how much we can affect nature with chemicals. Beautiful photos. I must say I am not much of a gradener although when we were first married we had a massive garden as was the tradition of my youth.

    • I’m not much of a gardener either. I love plants though, so I like to keep around the ones that don’t suffer from my gardening incompetence. You’ve intrigued me with your last statement. Was garden ownership a family tradition?

      • Oh yes I grew up on a farm on the Canadian prairies. My Mom and her Mom before her canned and froze vast quantities of vegetables for the winter months. One of my childhood chores was picking peas, beans, you name it out of the garden. Then assistant to the washing, cleaning and packaging. Perhaps I’ve always seen it as a chore so it never had a great appeal to me.

      • I can understand that. It’s interesting how much of our childhood memories and emotions affect our adult biases. Working on a farm is one of the toughest jobs and I can only imagine how much harder it must have been as a child.

  12. I have felt similar mixed feelings to you, regarding the benevolence and beauty of gardening versus the undeniable aspects of manipulation and even, maybe, damage that gardening can cause to the natural environment. It is a tricky equation, always hard to balance. But, oh, I do like your phrase: ‘There is so much beauty in the bewilderment.’

  13. Sheer poetry! You have a soothing and lyrical way with words. And those photographs! incredible. My favourites is the 4th one from the top – are those peppers?

    I live right next to the Singapore Botanic Gardens, so I spend a great deal of time there, basking in greenery. I feel very fortunate.

    My husband & Older daughter are blessed with green thumbs, so they do most of the cultivating in our Balcony Garden. We are now enjoying the last of our tomatoes.

  14. Beautiful photos and descriptions. I’ve only had a handful of moments as a gardener, but I do love wildflowers. When I moved into a new house in Alaska that didn’t have any landscaping directly around the log house, I planted a ton of wildflower seeds. I was only there about two and a half years, and the second year did considerably better than the first. I wonder what they look like now, if there is the sea of wildflowers that I envisioned or if the new owners changed course.

    • What a beautiful idea Karen! I’m going to imagine the new owners loved it or didn’t care enough to change things so that now there is a whole field bursting with the wildflowers you sowed….

  15. “What constitutes a weed?” That reminds me of the spring bloom the first year after I bought my house, from folks who’d freshly planted the year before. The winter grounds were mostly dirt, plus a few small shrubs, and whatever came up was a new discovery. Eventually I decided a “weed” is mostly what you don’t want, even if it’s legit, and what got kept was what dealt best with benign neglect. Nice ode, and pictures too.

  16. Hi, Yes, a garden, no matter how big or how small is a sanctuary. Because I have pets, I am loathe to spray.
    I leave the leopard slugs to deal with the vegetarian slugs.
    For the first time, I have a lemon tree which is food for a caterpillar with bright black and yellow stripes. I used to knock the caterpillars out of the tree with jets of water until I discovered they are the young of a beautiful but rather rare butterfly. Now, I let the caterpillars be and enjoy the butterflies.

  17. What a wonderful post and these photographs are especially beautiful to me because in less than a week we have gotten almost 3 feet of new snow. 😦
    I think it’s going to be a while before spring arrives…

  18. This post could have been called “Ode to the Garden”. 🙂 You sure know a lot about plants and flowers, besides their names. I like to look at gardens and sit on a bench nearby to contemplate, like you. Nothing beats sitting by the ocean for that, though, in my book.

    I can see that any garden and any plant teaches us something new. I don’t have green thumbs (in Belgium, we call it “green fingers” :-)), but I like the fruits of labor and the gifts of nature. On our sailboat, I successfully grew mint, basil and spinach. On our most recent house sit in San Diego, I learned about dandelion, amarinth and composting. All new experiences are good ones. 🙂

  19. “There is so much beauty in the bewilderment.” So true! I admire competent gardeners. I am a complete failure at it. I come from a long line of garden/lawn care fanatics/geniuses, but obviously got none of those genes. Perfectly pruned gardens are admirable, but like you I prefer the unruly places – weeds, wildflowers, wild fruit and vegetables and fungi. Gorgeous photos and words, as always.

  20. I’d go back to Monet’s Giverny in a heartbeat! 🙂 🙂 Sunlit raindrops and a patter on lily pads.
    I’m not much good at gardening, personally. Too impatient.

  21. Lovely photos! I too enjoy beautiful gardens but lack the patience to keep my garden looking beautiful. It seems like I’m perpetually pulling weeds and struggling to keep the ivy at bay. One day I’d like to start over, a clean slate, and have a minimalist easy care rock garden (is there such a thing as easy care?).

    • Thank you Caroline. I suppose it all depends on what one wishes the garden to look like, but I think low-maintenance plants that are native to your region make things easier. I’ve visited a few beautiful rock gardens in China which looked like a lot of hard work to design.

  22. I loved this post! I’m such a fan of gardens, plants, flowers, and everything green. We tried our luck at growing indoor plants and many survived our travels. I’ve got so much to learn from their resilience and will to survive the odds. Your pictures are stunning and your words complement those gorgeous flowers perfectly. It’s almost spring here and I can’t wait for the blossoms to pop some colour into the city! 🙂

    • Thank you so much. I too love anything green or outdoors but like you growing plants as a nomad has its difficulties. Seems as if everyone in the northern hemisphere is itching for spring. I’m looking forward to seeing your photos of the blooms.

    • Yes, I can imagine your gardens have given you incredible inspiration throughout the years. Your lovely nature paintings are a testament to that. Thank you so much for taking the time to drop in, read, and share your thoughts. Hoping you get better soon!

  23. What a poetic exploration of the mystery of nature, and the glory of gardening…yes, I too love the plants that take life into their own hands, instead of waiting for permission, rambling roses like precious pink Albertine, glorious nasturtiums roaming through other flowers, crossing beds, climbing trees, white anenomes spreading into new territory, snow- in- summer, creeping through crevices and all self-seeding plants like wild pink foxgloves, blue love-in- a- mist, purple cineraria, to name just a few…
    Lovely piece, and though you are modest about your gardening skills, it still sounds as though you have green fingers…

    • Your kind words are music to my ears. Though I love gardens, your beautiful descriptions of wildflowers have me daydreaming about the many beautiful ones I come across everywhere in my travels. And you’ve reminded me that the Earth itself is a garden of Eden when we take the time to observe.

  24. Beautiful words and photos. Gardening gives us that chance to get closer to nature by digging around in the dirt for a while. I love the idea of companion planting and that certain flowers like marigolds can keep the bugs away without harming those microorganisms that gardens need. I’ve stumbled on a few secret gardens too – it’s always exciting to find them in unexpected places!

    • Thank you. How wonderful to have you drop by! I think the best part of gardening is learning how to be a partner with nature, which takes a lot of patience, commitment, and effort than I usually put in. But the rewards are equal to discovering secret gardens in unexpected places.

  25. I love rambling English gardens, that, to me, convey mystery and benign neglect. But, alas, I live in California where I have come to appreciate (and care for) desert plants. I noticed this morning the black geranium is flowering and the Meyer lemon tree is laden with bounty. My rambling California garden is full of delights – less mysterious, maybe, but deligths nonetheless.

    • Black geranium? Meyer lemon? Wow, your garden sounds as thrilling as any English ones! I have seen some incredibly beautiful desert gardens in California which made me fall in love with succulents.

  26. What a beautiful post (again)! I’m struggling for words: after reading words of such eloquence, I’m feeling pressure even to write a simple comment! 😂Your photos are also amazing.
    How fun that you added links to your garden book, I didn’t realize you had books for sale though it doesn’t surprise me the least bit – and maybe I’ve read about it somewhere on your blog before now that I think of it. Your writing is captivating!
    I love visiting gardens when I travel, too! So much better than visiting the crowded tourist hotspots!

    • Hold on, while I recover from the heaping of praise! ☺️ Glad you like my subtle (?) marketing ploy, I’m not the greatest at advertising.
      I always do some sleuthing in every place for gardens, parks, even plant shops. After visiting those requisite tourist hotspots, these havens are must retreats for me.

    • 😢 Oh no! As someone who does not have a very green thumb, I have taken to adopting hardier plants and wildflowers that can withstand my clumsy attempts at gardening. I hope someday you will find that little bit of earth to care for as your very own secret garden.

  27. Thank you for this beautiful reminder that plants and gardens teach us about eternity, the circle of life, being born, dying, and being resurrected. And that they do so in myriad, marvelous ways.

  28. Wonderful words, deep insight. Life is so simple; Just immerse ourselves in nature. Watch it, learn from it. Yet saying that, it is so intricate. The building blocks of life. On one hand so delicate and on the other so sturdy … able to survive in extremes. Love your piece: Gardens have been my teachers. I have learnt patience while tending to vegetable, shrub, and tree.
    And then there is this: I tussle with the dichotomy of gardening: our innate need to manipulate our environment versus our inability to control nature.
    How true. Man thinks he can control nature. Sure, we can harness its power at times to create energy but really … control it. Unfortunately we are only destroying much of the natural beauty.
    Let’s hope more people will see the beauty in gardens that you do. Bravo, well done. You have brightened my day.

  29. “. . . 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.” Such a wonderful way to start this post. Reading it is like swimming in words. Lavender – fields and fields of lavender, is something my soul dreams of.

  30. You gardeners are patient people. I am not. I enjoy gardens immensely for their calmative and restorative powers, and I admire them and their creators greatly. But I just can’t do all the parts properly myself. I have grand plans each season but abandon everything very quickly; luckily, my husband takes over after the initial enthusiasm wears off! Beautiful photos and themes.

    • 😊 True gardeners are indeed patient and, like your husband, committed. Since I’m neither I end up leaving my plants to the vagaries of nature and climate. But, like you I love visiting other people’s gardens.

    • 😁 Sounds like he went to the same school of gardening as me. This is why I prefer to have plants that like to take care of themselves. And no pond. I can only imagine the amount of effort it took to build and maintain that!

  31. I like cacti. Firstly, due to that moment chosen by them when they reward us for patience with what they have the best – their beautiful flowers. And secondly, because they’re always fighters for life, an example for every being on this planet. My tip – dry soil, less water, a lot of sunlight.

    • Great tips for cacti, Cătălin, thank you! I too love succulents because of their hardiness. Makes it easier to take care of them indoors and through multiple moves. Their varied leaf structure also fascinates me.

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