I inherited my garden in the dead of winter from a tiny Italian lady who had been unable to care for it for a number of years before she sold her home to us. She left behind the garden tools I still use today, as well as more than three dozen roses, numerous raised vegetable beds, a forest of lilacs and a fig tree that doesn’t belong in my maritime climate despite it’s abundance of soft green fruit.
I call it my garden even though I don’t really consider it owned by me or anyone else for that matter. The moniker “garden” really only applies due to the limitations in my vocabulary. With spread out on our quarter acre lot, it chooses its own design, expanding and contracting based on its own whims. It considers my needs as gardener only rarely. It is its own thing – an entity into itself that only occasionally allows me to pretend I am responsible for its successes.
The first summer I lived there, the Rudbeckia that now crowds areas I once considered pathways wasn’t there.The bright yellow and burgundy blooms leave a stain of yellow pollen on the thighs of every pair of shorts I own as I brush past. Where it grows this year will not be where it appears next. Anise Hysopp and Lemon Balm blur the edges of the beds and soften the barn corners. Their rhizomes, undeterred by my liberal use of garden shears and hoe, spread wide like fingers in the loose soil. Fronds of Bronze Fennel have sprung up everywhere like rocks, the delicate foliage masking roots that anchor deep as dock pilings. The beds in which I planted Dinosaur Kale and carrots and tomatoes are become overgrown with Borage and volunteer squash and sunflowers. Oregano and Thyme and several varieties of mint carpet the way to the compost bin where I have pulled avocado plants from between its slat walls. The prolific, fern-like weed that appeared one day turned out to be Sweet Annie, the off-spring of a plant that died two years ago, which I’d bought as a loving remembrance of the best dog ever. And as I write in my favorite red chair on the porch, a wisteria, smuggled here from Italy 40 years ago, reaches its tendrils toward my face like Audrey in The Little Shop of Horrors. There is little here that I claim responsibility for.
It is a beautiful mess, but it bears little resemblance to the garden I plant in my dreams in the deep chill of winter. That garden is picture-perfect with straight, tidy beds, well thought out companion plantings and specimens arranged by height, leaf and bloom color and texture. Its prolific vegetable beds feed our family all year and the herb garden, organized by medicinal or culinary use, is carefully preserved in the fall. Its rose beds are carefully dressed in bark, with plants full of showy blooms with no sign of powdery mildew. The orchard is pruned and supported, lacking signs of caterpillars. There are bees everywhere, happily covered in thick yellow pollen. All of it is surrounded by a thick bamboo hedge to block road noise, fertilized by happy chickens and watered by a custom irrigation system so that my it never suffers from my erratic attentions with the hose and sprinkler.
At least I got the bees and chickens right.
I could “fix” it, but I don’t.
I kind of like it the way it is, even though I apologize profusely to guests for its bedraggled appearance. Its inability to stay within the constraints I try to set secretly pleases me. It is lush and green and survives with or without my care. But, best of all, every year a “new” plant shows up in it. They aren’t just volunteer plants wintering over or reseeding like the Foxglove and bush Fuchsias. Some things have shown up that I have never seen before – like the Sweet Cicely that appeared alongside the house this summer, its lacy flowers touching the gutters 7 feet up. It appeared next to a climbing rose that hadn’t been there the year before, which is nestled between healthy Dahlias I didn’t plant and haven’t seen bloom. Tomato plants of a variety I haven’t ever grown popped up in exactly the place I’d planned to install gallon size hothouse Early Girl starts this year, happily ignorant of the fact that tomatoes don’t grow easily from seeds in our short summers.
My garden is a lesson in enjoying the surprises that arrive in the space between my plans.
As I write, we are heading to Ireland on a trip for which I’ve been saving for a year. I am not sure how I accomplished this. My income does not allow me to be the type of person who “goes on vacation” but somehow I am now parked on a plane headed east. I don’t have a grasp on how much money I might need while there and don’t really even know how we are going to spend the 20 days of our trip. I didn’t study the guidebooks I bought or even fill the pastel colored map hanging on the kitchen wall with the package of dots I bought to place in the areas I wanted to see. We have no real agenda, just calendar dates with room reservations we made on AirB&B. When it came to booking a room for the last two, I froze up. So I just didn’t book a thing. We end the trip with 48 hours of open space before we have to be back in Dublin to fly home.
Perhaps it is a metaphor stretch, but I think my lack of desire to produce a list of things I must see in Ireland and my inability to book those last two days has something to do with my lack of real desire to tame my garden.
I want to leave space to be surprised.
Out of the three of us going, I am not the spontaneous one by any stretch of the imagination. Chaos seems to attach itself to me like a burr and I try to plan for all possible outcomes in advance. And because Fibromyaliga rears its ugly head without warning, I have grown even more cautious as I have gotten older. My traveling companions do not hold the same concerns. Neil avoids making plans and commitments as if they were bear traps and Ed is the poster boy for adventure (well prepared adventures, but still). But strangely, even though I am a planner (some might even say control freak), I can’t really tell you why I wanted to go to Ireland in the first place, much less give you a full list of things I feel I have to do or the trip will be a bust.
I just wanted to go.
I created the space for it to happen, and it did.
In the next three weeks I will be wandering narrow streets in search of the perfect pint, with the sound of fiddles and bodhrans and whistles ringing in my ears. I will follow ancient trails to sit in stone circles and spend long evenings listening to the sea and (hopefully) watching stars with people I love. But mostly I will be leaving space for things I could never have guessed would come my way—moments that become the memories I will cherish for the rest of my life. Moments I didn’t plan for, and which could easily never have occurred if I had tried to make it all happen like I’d worked out in my head. I am open to the possibility of beautiful things occurring that I could never have imagined, just like finding the Sweet Cicely in my garden. And I am already excited about the seeds that will flower in unexpected places for years to come.