A few years ago my good friend, Patty Craft (who is also the editor of Horticulture Magazine) invited me to attend Northern California’s Heirloom Exposition. It’s a glorious event centered around the pure food movement, with gardeners of all walks of life enjoying the displays and the vast array of information (you can read about my visit here).
One thing has stuck with me over the years, though, which was a comment made by two smug women.
Patti and I were handing out complementary copies of Horticulture Magazine and when these two ladies walked over to us, instead of taking a copy or simply passing by, they sniffed “Oh, our gardens are strictly utilitarian. We don’t waste resources on something if it’s isn’t edible”. As they spun around and walked away I called after them “but there’s information about growing edibles in here, too!” but it was too late – they were gone.
I was sort of dumbfounded and looked at Patty, who just shook her head and said she’s encountered that before. And since that moment I’ve heard more and more people denounce ornamental gardening as wasteful and indulgent. In a time when resources are scarce, I understand this attitude – to some degree.
But to so many gardeners, myself included, ornamental gardening isn’t about creating a wasteful garden to one-up the Joneses, it’s about creating a safe haven for oneself. And not just a sanctuary, but sometimes one that heals, comforts, nurtures, and protects when nothing else can.
This is the case with my own garden.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nlHVbd9G0MI A few years ago my good friend, Susan Morrison, took an advanced film making class and decided to make this film as part of her final. For those of you who haven’t seen it, I talk about why I garden and what it means to me. I haven’t watched it in a long time, and before I sat down to write this post I decided to watch it once more.
I can’t believe how much it meant to me then, and how it’s possible to mean so much more to me since my recent breast cancer diagnosis.
When my husband and I walked out the front door to meet with the surgeon for the first time (to hear the official ‘talk’), I instinctively ran to my ‘Apple Blossom’ camellia bush.
I had the immediate urge to deeply inhale the earthy, beet-like scent of it’s delicate flower. I wanted to fill my lungs with this delicious scent of the earth, to help ground my emotions that were running out of control.
I then reached down and picked a piece of lavender to take with me, holding it close to my nose like old-fashioned smelling salts. This is a new, especially fragrant variety called ‘Meerlo’ that I was given by Sunset to trial in my garden, with the most intoxicating scent.
In fact, during ‘the talk’ I ended up treating that piece of lavender like worry beads, crushing the leaves and perfuming the entire room. I completely forgot I had it with me, when the nurse commented on my perfume – ha!
Holding that little, and now crumpled, piece of lavender with me the entire time was like holding my garden’s hand. If I couldn’t be there with my mother, then my garden would have to do!
A few days later my husband, Tom, and I walked out our front door again, this time to meet with my oncologist for the first time.
Nerves ran wild, as this would be where the rubber hits the road – where I’d find out about my specific treatment, my specific cancer, my specific outlook.
Knowing me, Tom asked me what plant would I be taking with us this time.
I chose my delicious, lemon-scented geranium. Realizing how nervous I become, I figured its tough little leaves would be able to stand up to my crushing, worry-bead fingers! This became my ritual, taking a little piece of my garden with me to all of my doctor visits.
I was overjoyed to see one from Annie’s Annuals – one of my favorite nurseries of all time. I spent the next two hours looking at every plant they had available and filled my in-box with plants that I’ve always wanted to try. I scheduled the order to be delivered during the week before I’d begin chemotherapy as I knew I’d need a little ‘pick me up’.
Sure enough, the big box arrived filled with dianthus (extra, extra fragrant ones), a cup and saucer vine (which I’ve never seen in person), the cutest ‘Minnie Mouse’ cuphea, the purplest verbascum I’ve ever seen and many more.
Oh, how I cherished finding homes for my new babies that week, knowing the joy they’d bring me next year.
Two weeks ago I had my first round of chemotherapy, and as predicted it was a pretty horrible week. Not only because of the nausea but because I developed an allergic reaction to one of the umpteen drugs I’m taking which gave me all sorts of complications.
All I could do was lie in bed, staring outside of my big windows and watch the goldfinches on their feeder. And listen to my canaries singing outside in their aviary. And watch the English sparrows fight with the doves and scrub jays on the other feeder.
I can’t thank them enough for entertaining me with their antics, their beauty, and their songs.
For those of you who haven’t met me, I have a lot of hair, and there was no way I was going to wait around for clumps of it to fall out.
So, I decided to have my daughter fly home from college to help me with a head-shaving party (I use this term loosely as it’s definitely not the type of party I would ordinarily want to attend!)
Along with a few of my closest friends and my parents, my friend Julie also arranged for her hair stylist to come to my home to do the honors. As you can imagine it was one of the most emotional days I’ve ever had, saying goodbye to my hair. It was gut wrenching.
When it came time to get down to business, I was overwhelmed with sadness and couldn’t figure out where to do it. In the house? In the bathroom? On the patio?
Julie, who loves and knows my garden as well as I do, knew right away where this should take place – just outside of my little shed, in the shade of my giant Bradford Pear tree.
My shed is truly the most meaningful spot in my entire garden (as I’ve said before, it’s the heartbeat of my garden.) During the entire hour it took to shave my head, I felt my garden’s tender embrace as I underwent this transformation. Along with my family holding my hands and surrounding me with their love, my garden was there to help to usher me forward.
I have no doubt that my garden will continue to provide solace and comfort ,as well as joy, as I go through the next year. And I’m more determined than ever to help others create this same experience in their own gardens.
I am so glad that I’ve spent so much time creating this special place for myself, filled with layers and layers of beauty – not just color and texture, but scent and sound as well.
Those two ladies at the Expo might love their productive gardens but there’s no way anyone can tell me that an ornamental garden can’t be equally as important. My garden has been a lifesaver for me during these trying times, and I love it more than ever.