Thursday, January 15, 2009

My Shame

A new client in a new neighborhood, with a new garden... good, I'm excited, I'm like a hunter in a foreign land who just overheard a slurred bit of drunken machismo at the local tavern about an unslayable beast, all fangs, speed and epic symbolism. You don't find it, it finds you, etc. etc. etc. Within every misbegotten landscape and neglected "garden", handed over from one apathetic homeowner to the next like moldy drywall, is something elusive and powerful. Many have tried, and more or less failed to capture it...
Here I may as well slay the hunting analogy, as there is an undeniable lack of harrowing kill-or-be-killed importance to the taming of a feral garden. There is, nevertheless, an urgency felt by the passionate gardener to do something. Make it beautiful, make it useful, release it to nature, dig a series of pointless but satisfying holes, raze the whole damn thing and start over if you have to; don't just let it languish.
In the case of the aforementioned new client my charge was simple: pick up dead leaves, destroy weeds, render hedge-choked paths passable and, finally, find all deliciously sweet smelling winter-blooming shrubs and spread shit on them. Well, more correctly, spread mulch below them and mulch is only, I don't know, about 50% shit.
Now, at first glance, spreading foul-smelling but nutritious excrement beneath the midwinter olfactory sirens of Sarcococca and Hamamelis would seem to fit the requisite parameters of doing something, but I have never been shy about my undying love for winter-blooming shrubs. Hamamelis almost singlehandedly make the winter bearable around here, and if not for the potted H. x intermedia 'Arnold Promise' outside my door that I faithfully stop and smell every morning, I would despair of ever seeing this frozen winter fog give way to Spring. So being instructed to desecrate a glowing and sublime 10'x10' H. x intermedia 'Jelena' in a clients' garden was, to me, tantamount to betrayal.
Since this is, after all, my blog, I could easily make up an inspiring and entertaining yarn here about how I told the clients to shove it, that no amount of money, even in a torpid economy, would be worth the shame to all involved of subverting the citrusy delight of witchhazel with the ammoniacal stench of some foul mulch, and furthermore shame on you for suggesting such a thing, and even furthermore, you don't deserve this horticultural treasure so sit there and watch me as I gently dig it up and tote its fragrant bulk off to sanctuary (black and white shot of me at dusk, gigantic witchhazel perched Atlas-like between my shoulder blades, as I trot down Queen Anne Avenue into the silhouetted skyline of Seattle, townsfolk leaning out of windows showering me with confetti and rose petals, desperately holding out babies for me to bless, give my name to and possibly sire siblings for).
But not so long ago, I promised to never abuse the fantastic power I assume with the title of Blogger. So if you must know, I spent two days toting buckets of mulch from an old pickup truck and unceremoniously tossing it will-he nill-he beneath every plant in sight (black and white shot of same), including 'Jelena' and the lovely hedge of Sarcococca confusa just coming into bloom. How do I sleep with myself having so compromised my gardening integrity? I go home, inhale deeply of the Sarcococca hedge outside my own walls, bury my face in 'Arnold Promise' and remind myself that someday, when I am King of all Gardens and rule with an Ironwood fist, I will see my clients against the wall for the crimes they have made me commit.
(This may be a bad time, but in the next election, be sure to vote for me as King of all Gardens; I will be running on the Ironwood Fist ticket.)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Wind Through The Trees

Our gardening heritage stems from an ancient kernel of admiration, respect, fear and deification of nature. How easy it is to forget this when browsing the orgiastic horticultural library that is the modern nursery for a new acquisition to round out a bed (oh, something evergreen, with scented flowers, grows fast but doesn't get too big...). A springtime nursery, with customers lasciviously stalking endless tables overflowing with petals, stamens and carpels; sleeves and noses dusted with incriminating pollen, resembles wild nature like pornography resembles courtship: it's all about reproduction, but somewhere along the way bits of subtlety and context have been lost.
So how does one regain the awe and respect of plants that led ancients to see in them symbols of their own gods? A couple suggestions: if you want to feel the calm beauty of plants as they interact with and help compose nature, sit beneath a mature Douglas Fir tree and listen to the wind blow through its boughs; if you want to feel a slightly more terrifying beauty and seriously question your chosen vocation, spend a whole day gardening beneath a forest of mature Douglas Fir trees and listen to gale force winds howl through their boughs, snapping off limbs like dry twigs for kindling. Try to concentrate on weeding as the sickening groans and cracks punctuate the air above you like some primeval air raid. Now place said trees on the side of a steep, supersaturated, landslide-prone bank and continue blithely raking up leaves as nature and the botanical world become vengeful gods around you. Hopefully, with the help of a little adrenaline, you might see: this is not about the right plant for your little yard; this is not about finding a Hosta with the same blue tones as your shutters; this is certainly not about countless potted plants served buffet style with helpful little name tags. The carefully arranged green things in your garden owe their existance to ancestors who survived to reproduce in a dangerous world.
It is not my intention to spoil your next trip to the nursery, but I must warn that if you do take my advice and cultivate this new perspective within you, you will not soon look at those rows of friendly, pretty plant genitals the same way.