Buck and I were talking the other night about age-it is a topic, as I am due to turn 60 in a month. He is not only well past that 60 thing, he took that moment in stride. How did he do that? Grace under pressure, he says. Raised in Texas in the 50’s, his role was to provide and protect, seamlessly. This meant no wringing of hands in public. He was also raised to clearly distinguish what issues to pursue, and what issues to drop. What a gift that was! Our desultory discussion Friday night-were it a matter of choice, what age would each of us choose? He decided thirty-I spoke for fifty. To be thirty again, no thanks.
My thirty-fraught with wrong headed assumptions. My ideas about just about everything missed the mark in a way I would not even half way figure out until I was fifty. That hangover from my twenties-the notion that the world revolved around me-still hung on. My penchant for subjecting everyone around me to lengthy and overwrought discussion, mostly revolving around my oblivious self, seemed so righteous at the time. How anyone put up with me-how I got through the day; I have no idea. I created conflict with no plan for resolution. I was thoughtless more times than I should have been. I believed my point of view on every tropic was the correct point of view, and I spent a lot of time disseminating, persisting, persuading, enforcing, pleading and pouting-and other such ridiculous expenditures of energy. All of this-in the interest of control. Embarrassing-yes indeed. The aforementioned is quite different than having a passion, and the courage of one’s convictions. It was just about being what it means to be thirty. The best part of my thirties was the boundless supply of energy I had to dig up acres of grass and heavy clay soil, and plant. I gardened non-stop, and did most of the work myself. I learned a lot about horticulture and good plant practices, as in I killed enough clematis to finally learn how to properly site and care for them.
My forties were better, more focused and intense- and much more fun. I had already owned my own business for four years-that was the best fun. The process of getting an endeavor up and running is absorbing, and exciting. I was making enough money to live, yes. But just as importantly, I was making enough money to be able to move on to the next group of projects. Pilgrim’s progress, as it were. No first effort is one’s best effort, unless you happen to be Issac Newton or Leonardo da Vinci, Carravaggio or Shakespeare. I had worked long enough to see some landscapes start to grow up. My right choices got to be a more regular thing.
The element of age in a landscape is a vital element. Once a symphony or a book is written, it is exactly what it will always be the moment it is finished. Some painters paint and paint over a single canvas many times, but once they lay down their brush, the work is finished, complete. If a landscape looks the best it will ever look the day it is finished, then it has not been done properly. Every gardener has seen landscapes overgrown and out of control only a few years after planting. Too many plants planted too close together to start-I see this regularly. It is difficult to invest what it takes to install a landscape, and then endure that it look years away from maturity-but that is precisely what it takes. I am sure at one time or another most parents feel they have invested everything they have in a child still light years from maturity; this can be exasperating. I myself have patience for nothing save a garden.
Close up on a sixtieth birthday, I realize that I have no control over much of anything, save my own behavior. My landscapes have taken turns I did not foresee-many for the better. Some things need revision-I like the tinkering part of gardening. I visited a landscape I installed some years ago today-I am happy to see it is looking very good. I have landscapes still prospering from twenty years ago-this is even better. There is something right about a landscape that is ageing well. Would I really like to be turning 50-not really. I would not be willing to give up the things I have learned, the people I have met, the projects I have done in the past 10 years. Those ten years are part of a whole life that will need be put to my sixties.