What is your memory of gardens?
Like so many things, my memory of gardens is of books. I had plants in my yard as a child – the mint patch that defied any attempts to plant something else; the clump of cattails that I can never quite be certain actually existed; dandelions, used on cheeks as yellow blush; Azaleas, flanking the path to our house like two shaggy, ornamental lions; pokeweed, the berries happily used to stain our fingers brightest pink. But all of these, except for the dandelions and pokeweed, were inert. A background, as it were. Flat and interchangeable with imagination.
In books gardens often are characters. Even when they are not, there is a certain kind of book that, without ever having any actual gardening in it, still speaks of them in hushed voices. Certainly Anne of Green Gables would make anyone long for glades of velvet violets, and most older books sprinkle fresh flowers about until you’re certain they are being conjured out of air. But it is Mandy and the Sunflower Garden and Cicely Mary Barker’s faeries, and even the water colored flowers in one Ariel picture book, that I draw my definition of a garden from. Those and The Secret Garden, which filled many a day with the exulted wonder of seeing things grow. Maybe that is why I am discontent with giving up and washing my hands of green things, or maybe it is less conscious than that, an assumption, seeded into mind during childhood, that gardens are as much a fact as breathing and cake. Even Bilbo had gardens. Gardens large enough to justify hiring someone just to tend them.
My plans for my garden this year are modest. We reap what we sow, after all. No fig trees. No hand built containers. Just seeds. And a blueberry bush. My parents have two large planters that they’ve never used which I have relived them of, and I’ll need to get dirt, of course, but other than that my shopping is done. Well, mostly done. I do want to get some Arp Rosemary. And maybe some lemon grass. But other than that my shopping is done. My list is a funny, malformed thing. Half practical, half fanciful. There are no roses, none of the heavily scented flowers I dreamt of last year. No larkspurs, which always make me think of Nancy Drew. Mary Crawford would likely not be too inspired by what is essentially going to be a scraggly vegetable patch. The drama is to be supplied by echinacea, luffa gourds, chard, and nasturtiums, but otherwise it is all business. All small lettuce and baby bok choy, long thai egg plants and small french radishes. And herbs – fanciful ones, chervil and rue and crinkled garden cress.
In all of this, it is apparent that the thing which grows strongest in my garden, besides the mint and the weeds and the love-in-the-mist, is my own undaunted optimism. Perhaps that is the flower most worth cultivating.