mercredi 26 mars 2008

Taking on more than one can chew


"A garden needs its gardener, for it can do nothing on its own."
-- me


That was Sam when he was much littler, out raking for me in November 2003, before the big machine that digs trenches arrived. I don't know what I promised that time to get him to do that for me. Money hardly works nowadays. This photo accompanied a page from one of the two books I made to chronicle the work I had done in the garden from 2003 until last year, and on that page I wrote that "a garden needs its gardener, for it can do nothing on its own."

This remains, unfortunately, true.

Everyone who doesn't realize this wants a garden. Many sensible people who have given the matter consideration have not only rejected a garden, but a house, as well, straight out. I have tended to think of them as kindred souls to those who can say in perfect truth that they do not want children, but it is just as perfectly true that they are right -- you can't do and have it all. If you prefer spending your weekends visiting museum exhibits, antiquing or reading books, then you probably shouldn't have either a house, a garden or a kid. I give these people credit for knowing how to prioritize and make choices, both of which I resent in the extreme.

I realized sometime into my "gardening" labors that I wasn't going to be able to commute to Paris to a high-tech office producing cutting-edge Architecture and maintain my wisteria and obtain the perfect lawn. I was going to have a hard enough time taking care of the latter two devoting myself to them nearly full-time. If a choice had to be made, I was going to be a gardener. In retrospect, I should just have gone and hired one.

(Ha! No way. I hear some of you objecting, "But, then you would never have... this and that." Of course I shouldn't have, because this was my unforeseen destiny and my terrible yoke to bear -- learn the plants and make beautiful gardens with them, even if it kills you because you hate actually sitting down and doing anything premeditated and accepting the consequences.)

Then, some further time into the labor, I understood that if the garden were ever to become a place of beauty, I was going to have to learn how to make a garden. I am just now reading a book, L'esprit du jardin (the French don't capitalize every first letter of a major word of a book or article title, which is odd, but which has the benefit of saving them grappling with the question "Which words are important enough in this title to require capitalization?", and I have just discovered that there is no underline feature in the HTML of Blogspot) by Louis Benech, a book for which Amazon.co.uk graciously searched the planet for weeks and finally came up with a copy in Paris at 69 euros (ack) in which he tells the gentle reader in simple sentences how one goes about doing this.

At least the sentences are simple.

So, then, when you become a garden designer, you are in a tight pinch for it leaves little time for the gardening. What? You say you have no gardener?

Unless you forgo housecleaning and the preparation of meals.

I tried to make my garden a lovelier place, and I discovered that I didn't know nearly enough about the essential materials of the garden: the plants. Hence, I spent several weeks up to Christmas researching them with the help of Penelope Hobhouse's wonderful book Gertrude Jekyll on Gardening, in which Ms. Jekyll goes month by month through the garden, detailing what is flowering and sprouting leaves, what marries well together and what labors are advised. Thousands of plants are named, giving their favorite growing conditions and partnerings. Where the specific variety named by Ms. Jekyll is no longer in production, or Ms. Hobhouse thinks that a more recent one would have delighted her, she provides its name. My spreadsheet grew to some 400 to 500 plants, and I am not through the spring. Fortunately for me, there are more early season than late season plants.

What this really did was practically paralyze me with feelings of being overwhelmed by the possibilities and give me an even greater appreciation for the people who can reel off suggestions for plants in Latin and English (or French... and I need to be able to do it in all three) and know just the right thing for that place over there. Of course, what it also means is that as a garden designer, you have to make lots and lots of gardens so that you can get to use them all, or as many as possible, and then try and find time to go and admire them, see what works, what you love most. It is challenging.

And, now, it isn't even my garden that will benefit from my efforts. At least not first. Over time, as friends and family came here for lunch and saw the slow transformation of the garden from lost to quite a bit improved, it seemed natural to ask why I didn't do this professionally. Like I didn't already have enough to do. Ever polite and yearning recognition, I agreed enthusiastically. Yes! Why ever not?

Now I have my first unpaid commission, and my own grass is turning yellow where it isn't covered still in last autumn's fallen leaves (at the bottom of the garden, near the algae-filled pool). So, now I have lost my gardener, my garden has lost its designer before it even got one, and I have to get to work.
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