2005 was a year of garden angst. Refurbishing and
redesigning the front entry and adding dry gravel beds on the south of the
sidewalk consumed my energies in 2003 and 2004. With no exciting renovations on
the drawing board and no ideas for small projects I moped about the garden all
spring and summer.
In lieu of executing cutting-edge alterations (NOT!), I
paid fastidious attention to grooming and maintenance details, fretted about my
passivity and lack of creativity and worried that my vision for the garden was
faltering. Nursery visits failed
to induce plant lust. Lack of inertia stymied me-passion failed to consume
me. Was I having a midlife
gardening crisis and if so what was the cure?
It turns out that the antidote for my gardening blues
an unexpected trip to England.
Even though the Visa bill continues to remind me that I should have
stayed home, my heart reminds me that my English adventure was a once in a
lifetime experience. London
captivated me-the old and new jostling for attention. Historic buildings, grounded in the past, juxtaposed against
the colors and sounds of a melting-pot society.
I had writer's cramp after spending a day at the
Botanic Garden, Kew, just a short bus ride from my hotel. So much to see and record
and so little
time. One in eight of the known
plants in the world are held in the Kew collection. The glass houses and conservatories showcase an astounding
array of plants from tropical climes. The Evolution House chronicles the development
of plants throughout the geologic ages. Kew is a research and conservation
facility involving 275 horticulturalists, scientists and researchers working to
expand our understanding of plant diversity, seed banking, pharmaceutical uses
for plants and plant education.
Hampton Court Palace is immense-60 acres of garden, plus
the palace itself with its many towers and turrets and fireplace flues topped
with chimney pots. Construction on the palace, situated on the banks of the
Thames, was begun in 1514 by Cardinal Woolsey who gifted the palace to King
Henry VIII. The palace is a rich
tapestry of 500 years of royal history.
The gardens are formal laid out in geometric patterns with hedges,
topiary and garish bedding out.
This was certainly a look at how the other half used to live.
Visiting Sissinghurst Castle
for the first time was a
near religious experience-for its literary associations with the Bloomsbury
group, its architecture and history and the glorious gardens created by Vita
Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson. My fear of heights made climbing the tower pure torture but
the view from the ramparts all but erased my anxiety. What a thrill to look down on the layout and structure of
the garden that so influenced garden design in the 20th century. Influenced by the
work of Gertrude
Jekyll and William Robinson the garden embodies classic design and an obsession
with perfection-a historic stage set in the guise of a garden.
It was fun to see other gardens
but none of them spoke to
my inner gardener. It was at Great
Dixter, where we had been invited to stay for several days, that I fell in love
and left my heart.
Meeting Christopher Lloyd some 20 years ago when he spoke
to the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon for the first time was a defining moment
for me. Already a disciple of his
writing, I was enthralled by his lecture loosely based on his book "The
Well Tempered Garden." (As readable and relevant now as it was when he
wrote it.) In the first chapter of
that opinionated tome he writes "The great wonder, in gardening, is that
so many plants live." Sage
words for those of us who nurture plants.
Over the years our paths crossed many times. On one of his visits to the Northwest
he lingered on the bench in my wall garden while we debated the relative merits
of the Mediterranean plants in the gravel beds. He held court and I was a willing subject anxious to learn
as much as possible from his tremendous treasure trove of knowledge. Spending several
days at Great Dixter
was a seminal experience. Words
fail me here.
Lloyd, in his eighth decade, is still the consummate
maestro orchestrating plantings that resonate throughout the seasons. Trained
as a horticulturalist he has led the way in planting design since the
1960's. He and head gardener
Fergus Garrett shocked the gardening cognoscenti when they ripped out the classic rose garden and created a
tropical paradise. With one stroke
tropicalismo was born. The famous
long border reaches across the stone walkway holding hands with the meadow sown
with thousands of spring blooming bulbs.
Meadow gardening techniques learned from his mother informed the origins
of the naturalistic movement.
Never content with the status quo or concerned about what anyone else
thinks he continues to experiment with plants.
My malaise is gone-my head filled with images of
Dixter, the house, garden, Christo and the community that have coalesced around
him. May I have the stamina to
live as long and garden with the same fervor and passion-all the remaining days
of my life.