April 14, 2011
Me: I'm glad to be here.
R: Tell us how you came to gardening in your 60s.
Me: We bought a new house when I retired. As anyone who has downsized knows, we ended up with a larger home and more acreage. It was a newly built home, and the lot was a blank slate with no topsoil. I had to create all of the landscaping and gardens and patio and deck areas from scratch. After the closing there were few funds left for professional landscaping, so I figured, naively as it turned out, that I would simply get a shovel and do it myself.
R: How did you start?
Me: Randomly. I read a lot, I did internet searches, and then I randomly dug up areas around the foundation and out in the yard and added plants. I wanted screening and privacy so I planted a lot of trees.
R: What did you plant?
Me: Tiny little saplings. Dogwoods, pines, little oaks and maples and sweetgums and redbuds and birches, many of them 10 inches high, that will be tall trees when other people live here.
R: How did you decide what trees to plant?
Me: Whatever Lowe's had that cost less than $20 and whatever ArborDay would send for free with my annual dues. Then later I figured out I should be planting natives, so I had to read and learn what actually grows in the woods around here and go deeper into the internet and to specialty high end nurseries to source them. Surprisingly, it's a varied and wonderful selection of hardwoods and shrubs that have filled our natural forests for eons. Have you seen a sassafras sparkling in fall? A viburnum in spring flowering quietly at the edge of the woods?
R: No, it must be beautiful, though. So you only planted trees and shrubs?
Me: Perennials and annuals and groundcovers too. Herbs and berries but no vegetables. Vines. Mixed containers. Statuary and some garden gnomes, god help me. Birdbaths. A dry creek bed. Once you start, it doesn't stop.
R: You had a dry creek bed installed?
Me: No, I put it in myself. On my hands and knees, using only the stones I had collected from each planting hole I dug. There was no shortage of stones, and I appear to be growing more in the soil each year.
R: What was the hardest thing for you to learn as a brand new gardener?
Me: Math. Gardening is one of those real life math applications that your teacher warned you would need as an adult. Volume eludes me. Six big, heavy, difficult to haul bags of mulch cover only a small fraction of a portion of the corner of a tiny part of the garden.
Geometry baffles me. I cut borders whose edges look like a tight, difficult slalom course, all sharp bends, the radii and arcs are all wrong. Getting a wide gentle curve is a skill I cannot master and laying out a curvy hose or painting lines on the grass in orange paint is no help. I think you need math to do it right.
Volume, scale, ratios, proportions all mystify me. That's why I have short plants in the wrong places and tall plants too close together and onesies scattered about in forlorn isolation. Planting odd numbers, massing, spacing is daunting and seems to require too many calculation skills. I wish good garden design was about the plants, but it's about how much you paid attention in seventh grade math class.
R: But your gardens have not all been badly designed; don't you have any successes?
R: You are too modest. After five years of intensive experimentation you surely have liked some of your results?
Me: I like the way this turned out but it was an accident.
R: It's lovely. Are there others?
Me: Well, actually yes. Of my photos from 2010, I saved 400 that I thought showed a particularly nice view of some successful designs and plant combinations I like. Let me show you on my laptop, here, I'll just go into Picasa . . .
R: Well, hold onto that link. We'll take a break now and continue with part two of our interview in the next installment.