Sunday Opinion: The Four Alarm Garden

I am swamped with design work, landscape installation projects, planting the flowers,  particular issues with different clients needing time and thought when time is in short supply, plant material and soil arriving, the store busy, the fabrication of custom pots, pergolas and sculpture via Branch-lots of work. Lots and lots of work, all jammed into that brief season we call spring.  This is not to mention dealing with the day to day life of three related but different businesses.  Some days I feel like I am manning the gardening desk at the Library of Congress. Other days seem like I am a garden traffic controller with too many projects needing to land all at the same time.  I got to work at 6 am today, took pictures of that great foggy weather we had early, posted the pictures, got the corgis squared away,  picked up a truckload of plants, helped offload another van load of eighty flats.  I have a big job to install tomorrow. When they figure out how to beam plants from one location to another, I will be the first to sign up.  Now I am writing and drinking a little morning coffee-its 10:30.  Most of the time, I would not have it any other way.  The spring rush around challenges me, and keeps me sleeping soundly at night. 

Warm days bring gardeners and non gardeners alike out of hiding. High temperatures last week near 80 that will persist through this week is too hot for me, but I do not get to choose.  That bed that needs revamping, the front door asking for larger, more welcoming pots, a spring event, a new addition, a rear yard landscape renovation, what tree for this spot, people with new homes needing a master plan, what flowers to plant-the phone rings regularly.  I am in a business that mostly makes people happy. Great outdoor spaces at home are welcoming, relaxing, interesting, companionable, interactive, personal-I could go on about how I feel the landscape and garden industry in this country helps make people’s lives better.

Designing and planting require some involved parties, and some time. Time to cook something up, time to let it grow.  No matter whether you plant an oak tree or grow alyssum from seed, there is a process involved that demands time.  Pots planted May 16th for a May 23rd party will, oh yes, look juvenile. If juvenile but beautifully planted works for you, then a summer garden planting for a spring event will look great.  Ready for company.  The expectation of a mature summer planting the end of May is asking for something no gardening person can provide.  I do not have the ability shift a planting into 5th gear, or engineer time travel.  I am a gardener; I know how to design and make things grow.  This is as close as I get to sitting on the right hand side of Mother nature.

It is my opinion that emergencies are limited to sick or endangered living things.  I will sound an alarm if a planting is threatened by too much water, or too little. Any living creature deserves my immediate attention if they need my protection.  This has to do with a belief in the sanctity of life.  There is nothing tough about figuring out what constitutes an emergency.  When a design and installation of a landscape or garden is important, it is not an emergency.  Things that are important, you take the time for.  People unwilling to put time to their garden-I suspect it is not all that important to them.  There are those requests for gardens, or pot plantings, that are not so much about making something grow.  They are much more about a moment.  Garden books have helped to foster this nonsence moment notion.  A photograph that depicts a garden on the one day a year when everything is perfect-that is the stuff that movie sets achieve.  The day the delphiniums are all in their glory does not take into account what comes the preceding months-as in replacing, staking, feeding, and so on-and even less about what they look like the five months after they are done blooming.  That one day of glory might not be repeated again for years.    The four alarm garden invariably has that look of having too much of everything put to it except time and thought.  They are fueled by an effort to create a crowning moment by artificial means.  To my eye, they are gardens noted for the fact that their slip is showing.  What slips, or slips away in a garden has everything to do with a lack of respect for place, season, and nature.

I take my job very seriously.  No small part of it is about explaining, educating, referring, counseling, interpreting, understanding.  The best part of my effort is that the landscape within my reach might be a fraction better.There is not much mystery to any of this; it is easy to see what is not important to me.  I have a tuna salad every day for lunch, and have for at least 3 months now.  I do not subscribe to Popular Mechanics or Vogue. I did watch my fountain being rebuilt, but I cannot sit still long enough to watch a tv show from start to finish.  Others who do not care about gardens how I do-they don’t bother me one bit.  Its just likely I have little to offer them.  My design advice-figure out what is important to you, and be sure you aim for that.   Should you need a moment, ask for one-do not ask for a garden.  If you like lifelong projects guaranteed at some time or another to be mired down by failure, weather, bad luck, frustration, and disaster that requires just about every ounce of energy you have, a garden will be the perfect thing for you.  When your best laid plans for your garden are crashing down around you, take some comfort in the fact that your thoughtful time and effort to create beauty benefits all.

Leave a Comment