I had this idea I’d be a legitimate gardener when I moved to Virginia, someone who grew peppers and tomatoes and onions. Usable land was one of the prerequisites for the house we’d purchase once here: it had to have land I could walk around, land with an open view, and land for a garden. Actually, three acres and a pony, no homeowners’ association, and mature trees near the house were some of my exact words. Remembering I was highly neurotic about animal ownership, I revised the pony requirement to the neighbor having a pony that I could visit. The house we bought came with a homeowner’s association, which organization tells me what color drab our ironclad-shaped structure can be, and no one can have so much as a chicken, let alone a pony. I shed some tears for that surrendered dream, but it should have gone the way of the shirt anyway. No matter, though, I was going to lay in brilliantly colored gardens that would defeat the drab. I would make the bare front slope bloom with wildflowers. And the house, which we bought in winter, already had a garden outline in the back yard, just waiting for spring’s arrival to chug into color production.
But holy homeowner’s nightmare, Batman, did we get trees! LOTS of trees. Trees with a tangle of large, chunky roots just below the surface. Trees that bury us in autumn with leaves. Trees that endlessly shed pollen and twigs and branches and dirt. Very tall trees. So tall, in fact, that they block most of the sunlight to the house, the front slope, and the back garden. Four hours of sunlight do not a vegetable garden produce. Mint, however, excelled in the poor conditions. The house’s previous occupants must have thoroughly enjoyed mojitoes and mint juleps and were likely possessed of very fresh breath. The perfect storm of a mint tsunami, a swarm of deer, and giant trees fending off the temperamental sunlight rapidly swept away the unsuspecting vegetable plants I had blithely tucked into the prepared ground. I retreated to the house, put away my gardening books, and frequently left the window shade down so I wouldn’t see the sorry mess.
To my surprise, rosemary I had planted thrived through the adverse conditions, as did lamb’s ears which had been growing here and there. When winter finally departed this year, one section of the garden contained a line of steadfast rosemary and a silvery blanket of the creeping lamb’s ears. The mint reappeared in legions, too. I started yanking it from the ground, to discover more lamb’s ears nestled in with it. I began removing the mint more selectively, framing it around the lamb’s ears. Tall spikes with pink flowers, much beloved by bumblebees, soared from the impossibly soft ear mounds. I trimmed the rosemary to play nicely beside the lambs. I rounded up a few outdoor trinkets and set them in the mint juggernaut. There was a certain funk factor taking hold and I kind of liked its look. A little east Texas-ish, maybe, but fun.
I had anticipated creating a white garden that would reflect the light of a full moon, full of feathery grasses and Dusty Millers and moonflowers, gathered together by anything other than the desperately unimaginative landscape timbers now confining the garden into lockstep-style jail cells. Lured outside this past Sunday to the still unruly patch after watching fawns caper wildly through the yard and brown and white dragonflies byplaning in the still morning sunlight, I pulled and framed and trimmed, rearranged trinkets, and wedged in a few more as Creativity wrapped its elusive but insistent tendrils around my head and my sad fog of disappointment dispersed. It was time to make peace with the garden situation.
Wine bottles have long been a mainstay in my landscaping, and I was given some lovely clear and frosted bottles by friends. If I couldn’t have those glowing white moonflower blossoms, the wine bottles would do: turning tomato cages upside down, I slid a bottle over each of the three prongs, forming tall bouquets. After trying unsuccessfully to fashion a flower from corks and wire twisted together, I cut lengths of malleable wire, jammed a cork on one end, and poked them in bouquets throughout the garden. Their tan heads rose above chocolate mint and nodded over the Texas license plates I propped against the greenery. White corks sprouted from the lamb’s ears. A hummingbird feeder suspended in the center of the upturned tomato cage provides a tiny red contrast.
I wanted to have a “real” garden here, something more organized and fruitful than my crazy Texas landscaping endeavors. But it seems that’s not what I’m meant for, and I’m okay with that. Now I can do what comes naturally to me — whatever I want. I’m done trying to stick angel wings on a devil. This white garden isn’t finished; the Stepfordesque landscape timbers still have to go; I just need a good junk pile to mine. And more corks. Wine is good for creativity. I’ll get started on that, while you have a look at the photos. And thanks for stopping in to see the notgarden. Feel free to pet the lamb’s ears, and pluck a cork blossom for yourself, since I’ll be growing a lot more of them.