The Perfect Garden?

What does it take to make your garden perfect?

Well, first of all, maybe thereís a problem with using the word perfect and garden in the same sentence.

We all want our yards to look beautiful. And we define beauty in our own way. For some, itís a perfectly mown lawn, clipped to within an inch of its life, with nary a dandelion or patch of creeping Charlie in its swath. For others, itís a ring of petunias around a tree.

Some gardeners rely upon the same planting year after year after year- they were once successful with a planting of flag-red geraniums and silver dusty miller and they see no reason to change.

Others are plant collectors- every kind of hosta or daylily, or sometimes both, their pockets can afford and their yards can fit. Others want the most exotic, the Asian gingers and solomonís seals (I confess).

Others blend willy nilly, without regard for the feelings of their local plant snobs, gaily mixing perennials, and shrubs and grasses and annuals and vegetables and whatever else gladdens their heats.

I admit that I fit all categories, except the first. When I see perfectly mown lawn, the stuff of golf courses, I think of chemicals, and chemical companies, and the kind of stuff that is flowing into our rivers and lakes in the name of removing a perfectly lovely dandelion.

One very foolish summer, many years ago, when I was young and strong and unemployed, I decided to tackle the many, many dandelions in our back yard. Our property was Ĺ acre, which had been carved about a century before from the surrounding farmland, and rarely weeded since. What we had were dandelions. We used to joke that if we removed them, there would not be enough grass left to fill the holes.

So thatís what I decided to do. Armed with a $1.99 dandelion weeder from my local hardware store (basically a pronged steel shaft with a wooden handle) I marked an area, and decided that if it took me the rest of my life, I would remove the dandelions from that sod.

And thatís what I did. I would sit there, with a cup of tea, or a glass of wine, my weeder and me, levering up all the dandelions within a small area. I got really really good at it.

I want you to close your eyes for a minute and imagine the perfect garden.

What do you see? Do you see a perfect ma


Imagine the perfect garden. Close your eyes for a minute and picture it. See the colours, the shapes and the forms.

Now, ask yourself, what you are seeing. Do you see your own yard, in its present state? Do you see what was? What could be? Do you see a neighbourís yard? Do you see your grandmotherís Johnny jump ups? Do you see the bougainvillea or the wisteria of your perfect vacation? Do you see the lush photos of your favourite magazine? Do you see a row of peas, plumping up for the harvest?

Now, look at the picture in your mind one more time. Where are you? Are you even in the picture?

Iím not sure what this little piece of cheap psychology means, but if youíre not there, what kind of a garden can it be?

The fact is our gardening season is compressed into a fraction of a section of a second between when the snow melts and the next snow falls. In that short time period, all hell breaks loose. Century old trees come into leaf, annual weeds grow to 6í or more, barren ground gets stuffed with the life of weeds, and in the middle of all this chaos, we arrive with shovel and hoe and great hopes to exert some kind of control, to find beauty in the wilderness.

If youíre so focused on getting there Ė letís say your garden is completely finished on Tuesday at 5 p.m.- you wonít enjoy the trip.

Itís a commonplace that most people who make the garden see their faults; most visitors see the accomplishments.

Remember, youíre not totally in charge here.

If the trip is going to be worthwhile, you must be prepared for sudden stops, detours, change of direction, complete suprises and hitchhikers, welcome or unwelcome.

And remember that a garden can be defined in many ways. Maybe itís the plant on the windowsill because thatís all the room and the time youíve got. Maybe itís the vegetables you put in for the canning jars. Maybe itís the roadside ditch. And the native plants or the weeds that have found a home there. Maybe itís a backyard with a couple of petunias around the tree, and kidís tricycles and baseball bats discarded in favor of the next exciting game.

Neither John nor I do perfect gardens. Honestly, we’re not even sure what they are.