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  • Writer's pictureKaaren Poole

More Than a Garden

Not long ago, there was a perfect day. It was rainy and foggy. So, how could it possibly be perfect? Well, it was perfect in the garden. The moisture which lay over everything brought out all the colors, and the lack of sunshine eliminated the harsh brights and deep shadows. Without those bright highlights to overshadow them or the dark shadows to obscure them, every plant and flower stands out more. Here’s a view from part way along the main aisle a little ways from the side porch to my house.

I began building and filling the beds last November, and by April I had them all in place. I tried planning the layout, but that just didn’t work. Instead, I built the first few beds, then added a few more, and so on until I had twenty-two. At that point, I stopped. I wasn’t sure I was completely done, but I was done for this year.

Then, this summer, I had a local carpenter build the garden room. That decision was a difficult one to make. It wasn’t a small price tag, and I wasn’t sure I’d use it. After all, the covered side porch was at the other end of the garden, and I could certainly sit there and enjoy the view. But in the end, I decided to proceed. I’m so glad I did! I use it nearly every day.

Sometimes I just sit there and enjoy the view, and the view is certainly enjoyable. Other times I think about challenges that I’m having, and the peace of the place calms my mind, making way for whatever answers will come along. Still other times, I sit with my sister or daughter or granddaughter or friend and have a conversation made more joyful by our surroundings. And also, if I’m working in the garden, I’ll often sit there for a break. In short, the garden room provides more opportunities to spend time in the garden. And when I spend time there, I learn things about it.

I initially built and planted the garden because I wanted the flowers. But the most important lesson I’ve learned from spending time there is that the garden is so much more. It’s an entire little ecosystem, inviting all kinds of creatures to move in. There are mice, and toads, and so many birds. My favorites are the goldfinch who come to eat the seeds, the bluebirds and swallows who eat the bugs, and the occasional cardinal coming to show off its gorgeous plumage, brighter than any blossom. I’ve seen so many different butterflies, moths, beetles, bees, dragonflies, and other remarkable insects in various sizes and shapes. It became clear that the garden I thought of as mine is not mine at all! It belong to us all. And that makes it even better.

But I also learned what an amazing place of peace the garden can be for me. Being there encourages me to be quiet, listen, feel the breeze and the sunshine or mist or whatever weather the day has brought. Tiny details reveal themselves – a kind of bug I haven’t noticed before, new plants sprouting from dropped seeds, a feather a bird left behind. And there are bigger revelations. I’m a part of this amazing world, just like every other creature living here. There’s so much in that, especially the feeling that I’m not alone, and also, that I’m not in charge.

I'm often surprised by the garden's unpredictability. No matter what I plan, unexpected events can interfere. Last November I planted two long rows of sweet pea seeds. They nearly all sprouted and began to grow. Then on December 23, an outlier cold snap hit and dropped the temperature to 9⁰ and the temps stayed below freezing for forty-eight hours. I was so disappointed, and sad for the little sprouts. I was wondering when to replant when, a few weeks later, I saw the barest signs of life from so many of those tortured little sprouts. In the end, most rallied, and I had a beautiful fence of sweet peas until mid-summer. So, things happen, sometimes good, sometimes bad, and sometimes one and then the other. The garden made it clear that it becomes what it wants to be, not necessarily cooperating with my plans.

This year’s garden has given me many gifts. But one of the best is success – at last! – with dahlias. I’ve tried for so many years only to be defeated by spindly plants (despite fertilizer), ruinous powdery mildew (despite fungicides) and few and under-sized blossoms (despite advertising copy to the contrary).

But this year I saw one of my favorites, Care Au Lait, on sale. I’d eyed it longingly for several years, but it was just too expensive. Against my own better judgment, though, I ordered a bag of three. And they’re GLORIOUS! Strong, healthy plants filled with perfect full-sized flowers. This is an example of something I really love about gardening: year after year, it’s always the same and it’s always different.

My garden is pretty extensive and requires quite a bit of work, but nearly everyone can have a garden and benefit from it. Maybe it’s a cluster of potted plants on your deck, or a terrarium in a bright spot in your home, or maybe a single houseplant which offers cheer every day. I hope you have a garden.

P.S. I have a weekly email newsletter for art-, animal-, writing-, and nature-lovers called "The Artful Path." I never sell or share your information and you can unsubscribe at any time. Why not try it out? I think you'd enjoy it!

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