Sunday Opinion: Ageing Well

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.

At A Glance: What Rain Makes

My Friday, This Mid May

I apologize for my morning’s post rife with spelling errors-but it is a sign of my times.    I have just now edited that post-go back, should you have a mind to.  Mid May-there are not enough hours in the day to sort out and properly respond to everything how I would like. I have lots of marbles on the table-all of them threatening to fall off, lest I scoop them up.  I am scooping, as fast as I can.

Delphine Gitterman, the shining star of that most fabulous French garden blog Paradis Express, has linked to me twice in the past week-do you read her?  If not, sign up.  Her images, her point of view-will change your  gardening life.  Interested in the visual?   Her point of view is like nothing I have ever entertained.  I could not be more pleased that she follows my work.  She draws images from every visual discipline that interests her; should you miss two days, you are pages behind.  I read her every day-enough said. 

This greatly benign spring, the heavy rain, the warm temperatures-enjoy the rush, as I am.  I am caught up in the best spring rush it has ever been my privilege to participate in.    Rushing to catch up,  are you?  Me, too.

A Bit More Box Talk

The east side of my shop is heavily shaded by a row of 15 year old lindens.  The shop landscape is mostly about displaying our collection, and pots we plant.  Given that the lindens are the only in ground element, there is plenty of additional visual interest.  The window boxes light up that heavy shade, especially if I concentrate on pale colors.  The lime and white in this box put plants at eye level, and out of the way of foot traffic.  These iron boxes have galvanized steel liners that I paint whenever the mood strikes me, and however that mood strikes me.   The color of the box is an important part of its appearance. I like the chance to change. 

Spring plantings do not have the heft of the summer-the season is short and sweet.  Some plants definitely show better up off the ground-lobelia is a case in point.  The plant and its flowers are diminuitive and delicate; they need a seat up front and center.  Ornamental kale grows large, but its effect is lacy.  I like this type of planting up off the ground. 

Summer for me is all about sumptuous-no matter what style of planting appeals. An austere and edited can be sumptuous-just think about it. This year, the liners of the boxes got a rustic, dribbled and worn paint surface that complimented the style of the planting I had in mind.    

Not all boxes need to be under a window; this row of boxes provides welcome screening for a second floor condominium terrace, set squarely on top of a rail wall.  In an instant, this terrace became private. The planting-a graceful meadow two stories up. The client has since gone the route of arborvitae in the boxes; they have lived in them for squite a few years now.   

This old French iron box also sits on a wall enclosing a terrace, and adds another level of planting that makes the space cozy.  The wall was built with an integral box, seen in the right side of this picture. A gardener can vary the levels of planting by choosing plants that vary in their mature height. Window and wall boxes, containers on stands-this is an equally effective way of transforming a collection of pots into a beautifully styled vignette. What do you need, in the way of up and down?  Ask this question before you giving any arrangement your blessing.  Just as soil can be amended, an arrangement in your garden can be changed, modified, unexpectedly effective-given your visual study. 

My boxes on stands make a strong statement on a large brick wall.  I could handle that wall differently to be sure-an iron panel, a series of shelves, trellises for the pots-I have options.  I chose the height of the stands to put the decoration of the pots at my eye level when I am sitting close by-I love my pots as much as the plants. The top half of this wall looms over me.  I have not forgotten this; whatever time it takes for me to figure a top to bottom solution, so be it.

A window box is a big, stolidly rectangular object.  When planting them, I make every effort of vary the height of the plants-in contrast to the rigidity of the box.  This spring planting undulates softly, pleasingly.  The Persian Queen geranium color gets acknowledged with a few bits of lime marjoram in the front.  The white phlox is loose and open, compared to the uniformly cheery violas.  The lettuce bookends bring a smile to my face.  The most important part-give the time it takes to really enjoy your gardening. 

When the outside of the shop was in its yellow and whitewash phase, I thought my brown, lime and lavender window box scheme looked good.  The lime green hops went on to almost cover the walls on either side of the box.  The wispy Victorian era single dahlias-so subtle you can hardly see them. I refrain from grading my window box planting-who needs to be graded?  I appreciate history, change-the record of a given season. This is enough to keep me gardening.  

OK, I will choose a new topic, until the next great box comes along.