Observation is everything in the world of gardening
As I was working in the public part of my garden last week, a woman stopped to say hello. She told me she had recently moved into a house in Basalt and was eager to make a garden. She thought she would start with the weedy stuff that was there. Perfect! I have no idea what exactly she meant by “weedy stuff,” and I wished to continue with my work, so I didn’t ask. But I can’t agree more with the principle of beginning with what you have.How do you make a garden? Great gardener and garden writer Margery Fish declared in “We Made a Garden” that “You can’t make a garden in a hurry. House and garden must look as if they had grown up together and the only way to do this is to live in the house, get the feel of it, and then by degrees the idea of the garden will grow.” Of course, if you know nothing about gardening, have never had any idea of a garden, don’t try to learn about gardening, then nothing will present itself to you no matter how long you live in a house.The rules for planning a garden are as useful as rules of grammar when you are learning another language – important to learn but not the essence of communication. Visiting a cousin in Dresden once, I was fretting about my poor, ungrammatical German, stumbling over constructions and apologizing for them. He laughed and told to me stop fretting, that as long as I spoke confidently, everyone just thought I was an uneducated local yokel. Of course, it helped that I have a bit of a talent for mimicry, so I spoke with the local accent! By the end of my trip, my German improved. If I had stayed, I would have soon sounded like I was born there (which it happens I was, though I grew up in Canada).The same is true of gardening. Immerse yourself in gardens. Take classes. Read. Look at as many as you can, especially the ones you normally ignore because they are boring or just plain ugly, the ones you don’t want yours to look like!Check out the view: Even brand-new houses on subdivision lots stripped of every living thing (including the topsoil), have mountains in the background in our valley. Established yards will have a lot more to work from, but everything you see from any part of your yard or house is part of the view, no matter how close or distant, be it a flower bed, a trampoline or a power line.Look out of every window and every door. What door do you use? What do you see when you step out of your car? What do you want to see? Clean up junk, cut grass and pull undesirable plants. You might uncover old paths or desirable plants just waiting to be rescued from the undergrowth to flourish again. Ideas will emerge as you work. Think about the concept of lawn, if you want one and why. Are there trees? Are they giving you relief from the intense afternoon mountain sun, making the north side of the house dank and dark, or just keeping the welcome morning sun from reaching you?Implicit in the idea of starting with what you’ve got, even if money is no object, is the knowledge that making a garden is a process, that you’re never really finished. If you are, you’ve made a landscape, maybe, but not a garden. You could have a landscape professional design, build and maintain a garden that is as stunning and satisfying as listening to Vladimir Feldsman playing a concert at Harris Hall. Or you can take piano lessons and learn to play yourself. You can take it in any direction and as far as you like. How much work do you want to do? Do you like the feel of dirt on your hands, or do you prefer to go to work Monday morning with a perfect manicure and perfect posture because you have no backache? Anna gardens in Basalt with her husband, Gerry, and dog, Maggie. You can get in touch with her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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