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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 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.’

  5. 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.

  6. 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….

  7. “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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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…

  10. 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. 🙂

  11. “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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

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