Monday, April 26, 2010

Gardens, Not Gardening

L.G.C. Smith

I've loved gardens all my life. For as long as I can remember I've had vivid pictures of gardens of all types in my mind. Here are some I've visited recently that look exactly as they should.

Erddig Hall in North Wales

Chillingham Castle, Northumberland on the left and right. A private walled garden in North Yorkshire, center.

As to my own endeavors, I am, at best, a desultory gardener. I really ought to do better. I don't mind getting my hands dirty. I'm not fond of bugs and creepy crawlies, but I can co-exist peacefully with most of them. I'm downright happy to see honeybees and bumblebees, ladybugs, lacewings, earthworms, and other beneficial creatures. I know enough about plants, soil structure and garden micro-climates to keep things alive, if not always flourishing. I even used to put in considerable effort making my back yard look like there was a gardener in residence. From certain angles, it can still look decent.

My back yard this morning.

Then my sister moved in kittycorner behind me. We share a four foot overlap in our rear property lines. With my sister came Elsa, the German Shepherd-mix puppy. Like most suburban dogs, Elsa is mad about squirrels. Oh, the stories I could tell about Elsa and the squirrels. But that's another post. The problem with Elsa and the squirrels is that Elsa runs right through whatever lies in her path when she's in pursuit -- several times a day. My garden is in the way. All day, every day.

The gate the dogs come through.

Then came Magoo. He's Elsa's dog, and he did indeed stop her from eating all my sister's shoes, eyeglasses, and upholstered furniture. Alas, Magoo loves to sit in flowers. He weighs eighty pounds.

Magoo in a border he'd already been trashing for three years.

Magoo participates in some of the squirrel chases. What really revs him up, however, is nocturnal trespasses by non-resident cats, rats, raccoons, possums, and skunks. Preferable hours are 2-4 AM. Anything that gets between Magoo and the trespasser is in trouble. Plants? Trampled. Uprooted. Tall stems snapped. In that area where Magoo's sitting, I used to have foxgloves, aconitum, delphinium, campanula, blue bearded-iris (there were a few of those left in the photo; they're gone now), delicate shell pink gladioli, lilies, echinacea, scabiosa, and more.

Now I have low stuff that self-sows: forget-me-nots, cranesbill, nasturtiums and violets; big thorny things like roses that Magoo can't flatten; trees; weeds.

A gardening flaw I can't blame on the dogs is my tendency to let things get overgrown. In our genial Mediterranean climate, it's easy to do. This is my deck from a couple of different angles. Note the overgrown bushes. We do trim, just not often enough. The cats have taken over.

Other gardeners might use this area for people, but I find the cats (three of them, none of them mine) never complain about the lack of pruning. They like it. There are lots of shady, protected spots, or what The Leezlet has dubbed 'cat bedrooms.' There are weeds that make nice nests in said bedrooms. If the cats mind that we haven't stained the deck in six years, they're keeping mum.

My father has a plan for the Cat Lounge. He wants to turn it into an outdoor living room for people. That would be lovely, but it sounds like work and expense are involved. Besides, the cats would only think it's for them, and it'd be so covered in cat hair we wouldn't be able to use it.

Here's The Leezlet last November burying D.C. in leaves. He's not as patient or long-suffering as he looks. It's his lounge, and he's not budging. Ever.

Despite abdicating most gardening duties due to animal depredations, I retain one of the tenets learned from my parents. They were born in rural South Dakota in the 1930s. If you have land, even a tiny bit, you grow food. You never know when it will come in handy. Flowers and pretty plants feed the spirit, but when the Big One strikes, you can't eat them. We have a huge orange tree (only about 600 pounds this year; light crop), a Meyer lemon, a Santa Rosa plum, a Moorpark apricot, and a Sierra Beauty apple. I also have lots of herbs, and the vegetables are over at my sister's where The Leezlet is learning the gardening ropes.

I love gardens, and I consider gardening a basic life skill. Nonetheless, I'm rarely motivated to do more than the bare minimum to keep my garden usable. I will continue to visit and imagine gardens better than my own, and enjoy them tremendously.


Juliet Blackwell said...

Amazing photos! I have to admit that whenever I'm in Europe, I get to the point where I can't tour yet another gorgeous cathedral or art gallery...but I never tire of the incredible gardens!

Barbara said...

Oh, I am so jealous of your citrus trees. They just don't grow in the frozen tundra of WI. Only 600 lbs. I could cry.

L.G.C. Smith said...

Juliet, I know what you mean. When I meditate, I often revisit European and British gardens, and it's surprising how distinct the memories are.

Barbara, my sympathies. On the up side, lilacs and peonies do much better in WI than they do here in Northern California. I know this will break your heart, but it doesn't get cold enough for them.

Rachael Herron said...

Oh, I love blue bearded irises... And your garden looks WONDERFUL. Just as a garden should look, usable, friendly, and lovely.

Anonymous said...

Why would you trade the laid-back relaxed cat/dog/child friendly place that is your garden for more chores? Leave it, it's lovely, and maybe one day you will find the little folk who live there too.

L.G.C. Smith said...

Anonymous, my niece has found those little folk. They live behind the calla lilies in the winter and spring, and under the agapanthus in the summer. In the fall, they move into the camellias where they coax the bloom along. They eat mint and orange blossoms and they make new clothes out of nasturtium blossoms every morning.

Rachael, friendly is the best word for my yard.:)

Adrienne Bell said...

Lynn, your garden is wonderful. It feels comfy and welcoming. The kids love running around and finding all the little treasures hidden away behind the trees and down the paths. Friendly is a great word for it, and I'll take friendly over perfect any day.