“A man has made a start at least on understanding the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit.” D. Elton Trueblood
Yesterday was perfect. It was a day made for Goldilocks: not too hot, not too cold, a sunny day after a day with lots of rain. On this ideal day to garden, I lugged 9 bags of mulch and 6 bags of dirt from the nursery and planted a Swamp Hibiscus and a Virginia Sweetspire bush. I staked a fig tree that grew two feet last year and, top-heavy in yesterday’s rain, decided to tip over. Then, I got flowers into the 4 big planters for my porch steps and carted them out front. By five o’clock three bags of mulch had been distributed around the two new shrubs and one of my flower beds. Tired, and muscles complaining a bit, I swept my potter’s bench, sighed, and sat down content on my back porch. Yesterday was perfect.
When we came to Edenton six years ago, we found the old restored houses all around us to be charming. To walk near the water in the historic district of what was one of the earliest colonial capitals carried us back in time. It seemed a less complicated state of being, a place where big wide porches invite you to sit down in a rocker and drink a companionable glass of sweet tea with a neighbor.
Equally enchanting were the historic gardens. English cottage gardens making small spaces captivating, or formal grounds, organized beds of flowers often edged in boxwood or other trimmed shrubs, reached into my spirit and sang of peace. I could picture ladies with hooped skirts and parasols strolling the grounds with gentlemen in elegant suits, in hats and spats.
Here almost nothing was planted. The last occupant had obviously thought to make an improvement and had added a bin for a water garden. I’m not sure what interrupted her plan but the bin sat bereft and forlorn, occupied by lilies, but nothing else. Two lonely gardenia, a couple of large camelias against a small part of the fence, and the lilies in the stark rimmed black bin were it.
Where to begin? Just looking at it seemed daunting. I knew nothing about Southern plants, (including the gardenia) and our backyard faced North. It also had a number of trees adding to the northern shade. It was not going to be easy, and given it’s size I knew it would take a while.
It has. And I have learned a lot in the process of transforming it. My first lesson was patience. Rome really wasn’t built in a day, and I failed at a number of things, tried trees in several spots that died, lavender that shriveled in the sun, and a hydrangea I had to move from the front yard to the back to save it from a similar fate. Learning comes at a cost sometimes.
The long fence between our yard and the church parking lot on the left has been edged on both sides now. Snowball bushes, knock-out roses, canna lilies, multiple azaleas, hydrangea, clumps of iris, daisies, burning bush, a new forsythia, day lily, mallow rose, aconite, columbine, coreopsis, and a scuppernong grape vine have joined the one gardenia. Six other garden beds in various spots have added depth and points of interest like the fairy garden around the crepe myrtle. Ah, and the stark black bin, abandoned and on its own, has been surrounded by a Japanese magnolia tree, peonies, calla lilies, lavender, Shasta daisies and more.
I have found a variety of lilac that can survive the heat and received gifts of native Southern plants from gracious friends. For trees, I added a dogwood, (now 5 feet, “Fifi” grew from a 6 inch twig someone gave me), a plum, a fig, two curly willow, a redbud and a tulip tree. I have dug and planted everything myself. I tell the doctor it is my exercise. Digging out the turf of St. Augustine grass has been back-breaking…and gratifying. Good for my heart and my soul.
I have learned to watch, to really love the shade that protects from the hot afternoon sunlight. I have come to see that different times bring different subtleties of light, and that there is light in the midst of shadow. It moves in streaks from the East of the garden in the early morning, to bright overhead for my sun-loving plants, to golden afternoon shafts reaching even the deeper spots dappling them with gentle light, so that my bleeding heart is flourishing. Patiently observing this interplay of light, taking time to find the best spot for each plant, has been a key to success in gardening like it is in life.
Most important, I have discovered that watering less frequently but deeper is best. It creates deeper roots, just like a rarer but real compliment means more than faint and constant praise in the mind of a child.
Light and shade, work and rest, growing mighty trees from tiny sticks, everything has its season, and all of it, all of it, in its own time is “just right.”