Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Whither goest the Gardener?

“I can’t get enough of gardening. I’m outside all day every day and only come in when it pours or gets too cold,” said a friend at the swimming pool. Gardening used to be my passion and I took it on with zeal when we first moved into our bare-yarded house. I learned the Latin names for everything so I could talk to my expert gardener sister-in-law, Mary Ann, who husbanded thirteen acres on Vashon Island. She brought hunks of plants over and plunked them down in my yard any time of year. "They want to live," she said while I pored over the American Horticultural Society A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants about placement and needs; I tend to get waylaid by reference material. And together we'd line up for the horticultural sales. I volunteered for the Garden Show and traveled the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia to visit nurseries and gardens, subscribing to myriad catalogs. A new Heronswood Catalog was the crowning point of third class mail for Dan Hinkley's witticisms but White Flower Farms was welcome, too.

I was just pruning a rose bush stem which is now as big as my grand-niece's three-year-old wrist and I can no longer get the loppers to respond. Either they are dull or I am weak, or a combination of the two. Ah, no, Michael said I had the hedge trimmers rather than the powerful loppers. He trimmed the big rose bushes for me., but I am thinking what became of the avid gardener? I think it was most likely that shopping and design played the larger role in my avidity although I remember hours passing as I poked around in the beds contentedly, pulling weeds and dead leaves, examining with delight the opening buds. When did it all become a chore? With the established garden? My 70th birthday? My two knee replacements which put aside kneeling as an technique? Perhaps it was when I hired a part-time garden person who planted bulbs and weeded and pruned for me each month. In the past, winter evenings were spent reading wonderful garden writers like Eleanor Perenyi, Vita Sackville-West, Jamaica Kinkaid or Elizabeth Lawrence as well as the fellows, Henry Mitchell, Allen Lacy, Christopher Lloyd, Graham Thomas, or Russell Page. Really, when I wasn't fingering the soil, I was poring through essays on gardening. I had a scintillating library of such books, even some really old tomes like Alvide Lees-Milne (wife of James Lees-Milne, a favorite diaryist) or Constance Spry on flower arranging, or Gertrude Jekyll on the English perennial bed.  They are gone now as is my irrepressible sister-in-law and my own passion. Now looking at the overflow bookshelves to my left, I spy Katharine S. White, the indomitable New Yorker editor's Onward and Upward in the Garden so I haven't quite hung up my gloves yet. And my laptop sits high and posture perfect atop the AHS A-Z Encyclopedia.

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