I have been talking of late to my friend Michael K on the subject of romance-as a world view. For me, that means a world garden view. The most romantic gardener of my vintage would be Henry Mitchell. He planted untold numbers of bearded irises on his small property. All of the work that their successful cultivation takes he provided, for that brief week or two of glory. Only a romantic would devote so much time to a plant whose bloom time is so ephemeral. Bearded irises out of bloom, or in need of division, or suffering from botrytis-not so pretty. In bloom-who does not love them? He spoke of the summer storms that inevitably knock over the the delphiniums in full bloom and shatter all the peony blooms, but he spoke even more about how those gardeners that grow them pick up and go on past any trouble in the sure belief that life without them would be a desert. The gardener that throws him or her self at their garden like they have 10 minutes to live-they are romantics. The gardener who trims their boxwood with hand shears as they love the sound it makes is a head over heels gardener. Romantic gardeners love a rainy day as much as a sunny one. Gardeners who opt for gravel in the drive put up with the maintenance, as they cannot live without that crunching sound underfoot. They never ask for a perennial, shrub or tree that blooms all summer, and is maintenance free. The work of a landscape and garden is a life, not a job. They treasure that most ephemeral element in a landscape-a perfect moment. I have only had a few-but I live every day for the next one. Rob could not have been more pleased to have sheep’s hurdles arrive in the container. I know of no one who takes sheep to market, and needs a temporary pen for them. But I do know lots of gardeners who will fall for their history and sturdy construction. Some romantic gardener will imagine a use, and make a home for them. The hope of a supremely and sublimely beautiful garden-a very romantic idea that I cannot shake. Rob’s romance with the sheep’s hurdles-I greatly respect that.
Everything living and growing on God’s earth has a lifespan. A moment, a season. Some moments take but the blink of an eye. That would be my crocus this year. They came on, shone for the better part of two days, and vanished. My Kent Beauty showy oregano-one summer season, and one summer season only-would I do without them? No. My maple, the biggest tree on my property, I estimate to be about 75 years old. My yews and arborvitae are 25 years old. My Limelight hydrangeas are 8 years old; I feel like I have had my butterburrs my whole life, though I have really only had them 10 years. My garden in its present form I have had 16 years. This is a very short time, in the big scheme of things. But this is what I have. Some lifespans are bigger than others. Ancient yews in England, the sequoia trees in California, they are ancient and still vigorous. Grapevines in France 200 years old still produce grapes for wine. There are many examples of great age. But eventually any living thing will succumb. Not that I need remind you, but no living thing lives forever.
What does the inevitability of a lifespan have to do with romance? I find people with a romantic world view are intensely sensitive to the present moment. One beautiful flower opening, a certain foggy morning defined by a flock of geese flying overhead and honking, that day the double bloodroot blooms, a harvest moon high in the sky-the romantic gardeners among us greatly value the beauty of the moment, and great hope for the future. There is not a cynic among them. Part of this is fueled, energized by the knowledge that our time is limited. How do we choose to live it?
We pour over the seed catalogues. We grow seedlings under lights in the basement. We search the soil surface for signs of life once the snow melts away. We plan the next phase. We celebrate every spring in much the same way-the best is yet to come.
I would invite you to let your romance for a garden guide you. Get going. You do not have forever-you have now.