Spring Fever: The Latter Phase


My spring mania is finally tempering, and fortunately, I did not hurt anyone in a plant-induced craze. Except my wallet, of course. My house still looks a band of maraudering garden pirates attacked it--seed packets are still strewn all over the house; my bedside table is a precarious stack of plant catalogues and garden books; and you can follow the trail of dirt-covered shovels, trowels, and soup spoons from the bedroom to the back door—which remains permanently open in the last few weeks.

Now that my frothing-at-the-mouth phase has passed, it has been replaced with a feeling of contempt and self-loathing for every plant combination I’ve ever thought of. I read somewhere that fits of mania are often followed by depression. My ten-month old garden is looking better than it has in its short life. But not to me. My poor wife has to deal with sweeping declarations like, “Everything must go,” or “It’s all wrong! I need a blank slate!” I keep sitting her down to have serious conversations. While she mentally prepares to talk about finances or some major life decision, I say, “Really, what should we do about that hole between the Pycnanthemum and the Symphotrichum?” She rolls her eyes and walks away from the table. “She’s just not taking this seriously enough," I mutter to myself. I head outside to transplant a group of Penstemons I’ve already moved four times this month.

Is dissatisfaction healthy for gardening? A critical eye may indeed be the impetus for constructive change; but constant editing prevents a garden from establishing. Each year, I design planting plans for anywhere from eight to thirty sites. I think about planting design when I shower in the morning and when I close my eyes at night. I write about it. I teach it. But the one constant is the realization that doing good planting design is hard. It’s damn hard. When I imagine a garden in my head, it rarely looks like that in reality. Most of the time, I find this to be disappointing. Sometimes this discrepancy is good. Some of my better designed garden moments are, in all honesty, serendipitous.

That is exactly why I’m so fascinated with design. The challenge never ends. Maybe it will take me another four decades before I get good at this. That’s ok. Maybe I never will be satisfied. In my better moments, my disappointments propel me to make the next garden better. But with garden-making, at least I feel like I’ve found a worthy opponent. One that I will wrestle with to the very end.
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