Friday, August 8, 2008

Garden Fashion

I have a close friend who is a shopping guru and under her tutelage I bought my first designer outfit last week. I am now a huge fan of Susana Monaco. I know nothing about other designers, but I fell in love with a Susana Monaco top. I went home without buying it at first, but I couldn't get it out of my head. I went on-line and found all the Susana Monaco I could possibly find. I realized that the shirt I saw in the store was actually a Susan Monaco bargain. I went back to buy it a few days later and it was on sale! The top looks really good on me and I feel brilliant in it. What a coup! You see, I usually settle for the ten dollar t-shirts at Target and sometimes splurge on a chic, yet practical, dress and solid pumps. Why shouldn't I give myself a treat once in awhile. Shouldn't our attire make us feel good?

I have noticed that I feel differently dependent on how I dress, even when I'm in the garden. When I grab the ripped t-shirt; when I don't bother to do my hair; when I wear my muddiest, stiffest, most disgusting gardening shoes, I don't feel quite as...well, quite as pretty. I am at my gardening best in my comfortable exercise shorts that make my butt look good, a well fitting colorful (non-ripped) t-shirt, and a pretty baseball cap to tuck in my generally unruly hair. My best shoes are a pair of old sneakers that are not too old and stiff. (I just can't get into the "crocs "fad. not my style.) I wear my red polka dotted rain boots for bringing items out to compost on wet days or dewy mornings. I splurge on a new pair of colorful gardening gloves whenever I can. This attire is not expensive or fancy, but I take the time to care for myself and can feel pretty in my bones -- even after I get the whole darn outfit covered in mud from head to toe, for I am truly a messy gardener.

I have noticed that some women even like to wear pretty dresses in the garden. I find this practical for harvesting time. I like to pick berries in a dress. However, this ensemble is impractical for digging and general yard work. I am happiest in a long flowing, colorful skirt. Color is key! I can feel like I am one with the garden when I match the most vibrant flowers. On occasion, I'll even do my hair and envision myself in a garden fairy story. I favor the ones set in Victorian England among acres of romantic landscape. When I dress this way, I also sometimes grab a camera to take self-portraits in the garden. Vain? Perhaps. But portraits of myself in the garden in fancy clothes remind me how special the place is to me. I will remember feeling special in my garden forever just by looking at my pictures.

How do you like to dress in the garden? Do you have favorite items to wear? Do you dress for the garden with care or just throw on whatever happens to be on the floor? How does dressing up in the garden make you feel? How do you dress outside of the garden?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Meaning of the Details

Today I began a brick path leading to my gazebo. As storm clouds and thunder rolled in, I also outlined my gazebo shade garden with brick edging. The garden now has more definition. As I gardened, I began thinking...the beauty is in the details. Containers with pretty pots; a rustic wooden fence as a backdrop; stone paths; arches covered in vines; fairies tucked under hostas -- the details are what make the garden special. Beyond color schemes and plant varieties, the man-made elements of a garden call attention to the gardener's handiwork. I will finish out this season further defining pathways and tucking visual elements into the setting to put my stamp on my landscape. After all, showing our unique talents and viewpoints is part of what gardening is all about.

There is an area of historical study called "material culture." I was speaking to a friend about this yesterday. Material culture involves the study of the symbolism and hidden meaning of man-made objects. It involves looking at artifacts to determine what a culture or individual meant by the creations they left behind. One can examine a garden for its beauty. Or, one can dig even further and seek to understand the gardener through an examination of her style and the incorporated elements in her garden.

While researching my book, "The Gardener's Soul," I was especially struck by this method of understanding the gardener when I met a woman with very high end artistic taste. Her garden was tastefully peppered with fine art sculpture such as a bench by a well-known local artist. Tucked in one corner of the garden was a little gargoyle. He seemed out of place amidst the expensive stone artworks. He seemed an ordinary piece of garden whimsy. I wanted to know what this little piece of sculpture said about this gardener. Her garden was meticulous. The plants were in neat rows with neat pathways and few weeds. In conversation, I learned that this woman liked to feel in control of her surroundings and her life. Yet, I could feel that this deeply organized and image conscious person had a wild side that she kept close to her. When I mentioned the seemingly disparate gargoyle, she gave me a sly smile as if I discovered a little secret.

Faces on my trees; a sign that reads "If you are a fairy princess please come in"; a cat weather vane, Buddhist sculptures; curvy pathways -- all reveal different aspects of my personality. I wonder how people would read me if they ventured upon my gardens without a tour. Mom? cat person? Buddhist?

What secrets do your garden objects reveal about you? Or, are you conscientiously shouting a message to the world about yourself?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Amending Your Soil

The compost was finally "cooked" yesterday -- my first bin -- effectively completed in three years. I started with anaerobic rotting vegetables, loyally adding more and more until the bin smelled and the whole thing looked like poo. Then I decided to do some reading. I thought, "Really! How hard can this whole thing be?!" And it truly is not difficult, once you learn to punch holes in the bin, add a little water (not too much,) and add some little microbial helpers to get the job done. The end result was not the "black gold" I had been told about. It was more mushy, but that tell-tale black color was there. I buried it in some of the gardens yesterday. Three years worth of goop that barely filled two of my smallest gardens. I have still have my 3 largest gardens to amend and some other small ones. I've got to get my black gold produced faster. Once I learned how to do it properly. it took about three months. I'm going to save up for one of those rotating barrels so I can "make great fresh compost from start to finish in 3 weeks..." At least I think that's what the ad said.

One of the "garden centers" I visit regularly has put out a call to Ban Naked Soil! I put garden centers in quotes because Susan's Perennials is really a large backyard garden turned garden center by a local retiree. The garden is known for its gorgeous daylilies in rainbow colors. Susan also grows tremendous hostas. She is a remarkable garden conversationalist, spouting off information for anyone lucky enough to find her jewel of nature. Susan sporadically sends e-mails with information to her customers. "Ban Naked Soil!" caught my eye because I had decide last year to no longer use shredded bark or small wood chips for mulching. I've been told that they leach nutrients out of the soil as they decompose. I haven't yet researched how accurate this is, but since I don't like how the chips look anyway and they are very expensive, that was enough for me to ban them. Susan uses a combination of chopped leaves, grass and other yardwork leftovers to cover her bare spots. I have piles and piles of such castaways in my woods. I need to find an inexpensive way to chop them up and then plan to cover my beds for a fall project.

I'm constantly looking for ways to amend and protect the soil. Last autumn I covered the gardens in straw before the first snow fall. It seemed to work well, but since we had a mild winter I'm not sure it was necessary. This summer I've been using a seaweed and / or fish fertilizer. It stinks like a beach here at times, but the plants really do seem to like the stuff. Soil amending is actually fun. As a nod to yesterday's post, I should mention the book "Secrets of the Soil," which taught me to be more present with my soil. As I amend, I think about all the critters I'm making happy.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


This month's Organic Gardening magazine includes an article entitled "The Professor's Plot" that discusses the gardens at Clemson University. It relates the story of the school's heirloom garden and how the professor "transformed a slope of slick, worn out clay into a showcase organic garden." The last sentence of the article really struck me, relating the philosophy of the garden's caretaker. "And remember that monotonous work --weeding the garden, sorting beans -- allows the brain time to contemplate, question and be in awe."

I think the word "awe" is the most apt description for the ultimate gardening experience. Merriam Webster defines awe as "an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime." It is a feeling I get every time I allow myself to be present with nature. I often times allow my mind to wander to business, chores, and the day-to-day chaos. When my mind wanders so, I am not living in the moment or practicing what the Buddhists call "mindfulness." It really is to our advantage to practice mindfulness as much as possible. This allows us to feel the full impact of "awe." When in the garden, mindfulness allows us to be fully in touch with nature and life's wonders.

As gardeners, we have all had moments when we were profoundly awe-struck. A smell recognized from childhood, a beautific newly opened blossom, small raindrops on our eyelashes...when we notice these incidental and miraculous offerings of nature, we are practicing mindfulness. The awesome beauty of the moment touches our heart and eases our soul when we take in our surroundings with all of our senses.

The comfort of our home garden, filled with our most beloved plants can trigger awe. But sometimes, when we need to get out of a rut, a new surrounding can revive the sensation. This weekend I had a lovely visit with my sister in Narberth. Located right outside of Philadelpha, the village or Narberth is filled with sensational small gardens with riots of color. In my neighborhood in suburban / country New Hampshire, large expanses of green are dotted with flowers. Because of my sister's urban setting, the color was more visible and profound. Small gardens in front of closely spaced houses welcomed visitors. Swaths of long established roses climbed trellises and fences. As we walked sidewalks to get to the park I admired hydrangea, sunflower, and coneflower. Just like Clemson's clay slopes, the city setting is often remarkable for it's ability to harbor a garden. Where the garden seems the antithesis of the urban environment, it instead provides a perfect balance. A good urban garden helps us stay in touch with nature and reminds us to be mindful of that which is not man-made.

At the train station, gardens welcomed curious cousins who played alongside the parking lot. Nature provided us with the perfect setting to play out a long awaited reunion. I spent the weekend getting back together with family. My days were unplanned. Children's baths were unhurried. We flew by the seat of our pants. It's nice to let go once in awhile, so that we can appreciate the little things in life that bring us awe and remind us why we are here in the first place. I hope to return to my own garden today. I see that the weeds have grown and new flowers are opening. The tomatoes are turning red. August is a time of great change in my garden as rudbeckia, aster, mums, and other preludes to fall begin to rear their heads and make their statements. I am always struck by this change. Today I hope to let myself feel that change with all the awe I can muster.