Friday, August 15, 2008

Creating a Garden That Makes You Happy

I spend each summer running around and looking at 30 – 50 gardens in hopes of finding the one, two, or three that might be suitable for publication. Of the remaining 47, perhaps five to ten are for show --- to impress the neighbors. The majority simply make their gardeners happy. In today’s world, that’s no small accomplishment!

My garden is not likely to ever appear in a magazine. While I am working on a long-term plan to stretch the succession of bloom, the big, splashy blossoms (rhodies, bleeding heart, iris, and roses) have finished exploding by early summer. I’m hoping for some flowers on those field-trial hydrangeas that are one and two years old. And then there are the native plants I bought last fall. But they all have a long way to go before they can present the masses of color produced by the 15-year old rhodie wall. Living in the middle of the woods means that the garden’s primary summer color is green. It’s very soothing and the varied textures keep it interesting. But this kind of garden just does not photograph well.

My friend Diane said the other day, “I’m not into all that blue garden, white garden, and lavender garden stuff like what you do,” she said. She and Fred are enthusiastic nature lovers and spend a great deal of time working in their garden. They have an abundance of frogs, birds and, sometimes, bears. It isn’t easy for Diane, who is highly allergic to bee stings and poison ivy, but I’m pretty sure gardening is her favorite thing. I’m not into all that pruning, manicuring, and pond maintenance that she and Fred do to keep their place ship-shape. Our two gardens couldn’t be more different, but they do make their respective owners very happy.

Gardening is one of the few things in life we can do where our “mistakes” don’t matter. If we realize we’ve put a plant in the wrong place, we can move it. If our soil isn’t all that great, we can amend it. If we want more sun, we can limb up the trees; if we want more shade, we can plant more trees. We can emphasize color, collect particular kinds of plants, or create a fantasy land where we can escape from the world for a few hours.

So, as you flip through those glossy garden magazines, or gorgeous garden books, don’t get intimidated. Instead, zero in on those photos that excite you and figure out what it is about the colors, shapes, design, or atmospherics in it that is speaking to your soul. That’s the beginning of creating a garden that makes you happy.

Lois de Vries' thoughts on gardening and environmental issues run the gamut from gardening in her own back yard to promoting land management practices that reconnect people to the Earth. Lois is seeking a publisher for her book, The Transformational Power of Gardening. Visit her blog at

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