My limited experience with gardening and gardeners might best be characterized by the word “restraint.” Unlike our houses, which people renovate, rehabilitate, restore, redecorate, and reconfigure with reckless abandon, whole scale renovations of the garden are less frequent, and met with considerable circumspection if not frowns.
Two things seem to be at play here. First, I surmise most gardeners tend to think that “next year will be better.” So, we leave the wilted, sparsely-leafed, browning specimens in the ground for another year, blaming poor performance on extreme weather conditions, unusual insect activity, cat urine, or whatever else seems a prime suspect. The mantra, unfortunately, ensures continuation of the pathetic looking space we call a garden.
Second, more poignantly, I think there is a general unease with tampering with life. Sure, we may whack the heck out of some plant we dislike, hoping to kill it, but each year it returns more vigorous than the previous (and looking surprisingly attractive!). But with those specimens that we care for, like, and indeed for which we paid a handsome price, we lose the courage of our convictions, thinking that we’ll kill the plant, upset it, and plunge it into despair and hence poor performance if not death by moving it.
So, with those things in mind, I publicly announce my resolve to renovate the east side shade garden bed. I’ve been unhappy with it for several days, though probably longer. Perhaps visiting other people's gardens adversely affected the view of my own garden. Perhaps this harsh season—record breaking heat and drought, which has caused much visible damage—has deflated the promises I harbored for that bed.
No matter the cause, the bed needs a plan, a scheme, an order, a visually more aesthetic placement of plants. Of all my beds, this is the least photographed. Sure individual plants command attention, but the visual sweep fails to entice and excite.
The renovation may simply involve moving around some plants, and filling in gaps where plants have ceased to exist—drought and heat, combined with particularly dry, deep shade conditions in certain spots, have exacted their toll. I am in need of an architectural plant that can withstand those conditions, and I should like to situate Ephedra or Aucuba japonica crassifolia or, preferably, Hebe parviflora angustifolia in the space where I most need year round visual interest, but local garden centers do not carry them. I should probably ask if they have recommendations, but like most men and directions, I don’t feel like slowing down to bother the other.
My renovation, my extreme makeover—garden edition might actually have to wait, not because I curse suspected maladies and culprits, nor because I particularly value plant life (I do, but that doesn’t stop me). Rather, like many a gardener, I suppose, the ultimate cause for restraint lies in finding that proverbial perfect plant, the one you discover after months or possibly years of research, the one you find a desire well up in your heart, the one that you search the eastern seaboard (or whatever region from which you hail) until you find it.
The true cause for restraint is it seems, quite unexpectedly, obsession.