It’s My Garden, and I’ll Try If I Want To!

By: Diane S Laird

Diane S Laird is a former president of the Northwest Horticulture Society and currently serves on the board of the…

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A private deck amidst the bold subtropical foliage in the author's garden. Author's photographs

A private deck amidst the bold subtropical foliage in the author’s garden. Author’s photographs

Some years ago, a friend commented that she was uncomfortable around “experienced” gardeners. I told her that we are all beginners, because our curiosity pushes us from one stage of gardening into new and unfamiliar territory, and, suddenly, we start learning all over again. Many of my friends have gone through stages similar to those that I’ve identified in the evolution of my own garden. Perhaps they sound familiar . . .

All Flowers All the Time—
The English Cutting Garden:
June rain, constant deadheading, mandatory staking, the weedy look, and guilt over collapsed seedy plants quickly brought an end to this stage.

Potpourri/Martha Manqué:
All flowers in the garden have to be fragrant, edible, or match the interior décor. See previous stage for reasons this one ended.

My Garden Must Be Able to Sustain Life
(“I want to walk out into the garden with bowl in hand to collect blueberries for my cereal.”):
This tasty stage ceased after I could no longer bear waking up early on sunny summer mornings to the sounds of pigs, disguised as towhees, devouring the almost-ripe fruit in the giant birdfeeder known as my garden.

Apple Trees:
Don’t ask: apples don’t grow in Western Washington. Ugh.

This flowery stage ended when I learned that severe pruning was no longer considered “the best way;” I realized that hacking those plants back to stubs each winter was my favorite aspect of growing roses. Their cultural needs also conflicted with the next stage.

Tucked within the author's bold plantings is a sculptural sphere, by Little and Lewis

Tucked within the author’s bold plantings is a sculptural sphere, by Little and Lewis

Organic Gardening:
I stumbled into this stage by accident, in an effort to save money. I pretended to buy the chemical sprays and use them in the garden; if the problem still existed in three weeks, I jerked the plant out. This stage stuck.

Composting for Type A Personalities:
I got the tumbler, the bins, the screens, and the giant thermometer. Gardening stopped while compost happened. A good day meant the pile was steaming and 150°. (Did you know that if you compost to the ultimate, nothing is left?)

I like sunshine. If I can’t have it, I like the effect of sunshine—brought on by the color yellow in the garden. The search for new plants with yellow foliage began in the early seventies and continues.

Orange Flowers:
This was a tough stage until fairly recently, when garden writers of note reversed their decrees and announced that “orange is in.”

Black Flowers:
I have embarrassed myself by going nutty over black flowers. When I realized that I needed a flashlight at high noon in July to see the black blossoms, I quit buying them unless they were attached to some fabulous foliage.

Black Leaves:
I must still be in this stage; I can’t think of anything bad to say about it.

Flowering Shrubs:
It’s in the ground, it’s going to flower every year, and I don’t have to deadhead or stake. This stage lasts as long as the space does—or until boredom sets in.

Himalayan Blackberries:
When life’s circumstances cause a hiatus in gardening activities, these grow over everything—quickly! As that life stage ended, and I was uncovering my garden, a passerby asked, “What happened to the woman who used to live here?” “She’s coming back,” I replied.

The Grass is Always Greener
(A) Lawns:
I suggest trying this one after organic gardening, so you don’t destroy the earth. Keep weeds and lawn equally green and equally cut and it all looks good. It ended for me when the trees shaded the lawn, and I developed an interest in ferns.
(B) Envy:

Inspired by a gardener in a different stage, we change direction and become a beginner again.

Ornamental Grasses:
This is an easy stage at first, but difficult about two years later, when—for starters—the new grass introductions are sprouting in the seams between gutter and asphalt in the street.

Big Leaves, Colored Leaves, Tropical-looking Plants and Foliage:
There is a lot of written opinion about this trend. I call it home and don’t care what anyone else thinks. Which brings me to the last and best stage.

It’s My Garden, and I’ll Try If I Want To:
Do exactly what you want. And save room for a bench so you can sit in the middle of what you love, basking in the reflection of a yellow plant beneath a gray sky.