Sunday, July 30, 2017

My garden of regrets

"But though an old man, I am but a young gardener."
—Thomas Jefferson

As I tend to my garden, I think about love, loss, and regret.

All is bittersweet now. We are house hunting and that means leaving behind my gardens of dreams, regrets, trial and error, and planting new ones.

Until I fell in love with native plants and the way they nurture the thousands of exquisite creatures of this particular place on the planet, I was a fickle gardener.

I see now that was because there was no there there. There was no real life to it; no community, no history, no rightness or belonging, no center. Such a shallow-rooted relationship is not sustainable. And the roots of a garden that doesn't belong to its place disrupt the earth and its intricate web of relationships formed over the course of millennia.

So I regret years spent planting ornamental species that did nothing to feed native bees, birds or butterflies, none of which bore any kinship or relationship to the other. Fragments and echoes of another place, not this place. The harm that is done.

But though I surely regret it, the sting is lessened because I have learned to do better. Now coneflowers, hyssop, wild bergamot, milkweed, witch hazel, serviceberry and others that feed wildlife have taken their place in my plot of earth.

I regret not planting a bur oak tree many years ago (or even more recently). I told myself my yard was too small for such a wide-branching and magnificent tree...and so it is. But why didn't I plant one anyway? For I love them with all of my dryad heart. 

(A metaphor for all the ways I make myself and my life too small?)

Now I am no longer young enough to see a young oak tree grow to mightiness in my lifetime, and that cannot be undone. 

But I am searching for a house with a big bur oak tree. At the least there must be a sunny place to plant one or two, and maybe I will be granted the years to tend them and see them flourish.* But trees are a legacy we leave to the wild ones, including human persons. Trees are one (and not the least) of the joys of living on this earth.  

I love vines, the way they artfully conceal yet reveal. But at times I regret planting the too-vigorous Englemann Ivy, a selection of the native Virginia Creeper requiring constant vigilance lest it take over the garden, yard, even the big silver maple...but. Its leaves ensconce the privacy fence in green, and in scarlet, rose and apricot yellow in October.

I've also regretted letting the wild grape vine plant itself next to my sidewalk fence, where in mere days it grows foot-long tendrils that reach out into the walkway, which I must continually trim back, feeling like a meanie while curbing its exuberance. 

But on the other hand, the birds and rabbits take cover under the leaves and eat its fruit, and it is rife with large, golden, buzzing beetles (none of which you can see below).

I'm regretting the two shrubs I planted in front when we moved into this house 20 years ago...too close to one another and non-natives. I would replace them if we were staying. 

I did not instantly eradicate the dreadfully invasive European creeping bellflower that's growing among the grass in the boulevard and has spread in an unplanted area of the back yard. Another cause for regret. To get rid of it now would require many, many hours of digging, essentially replacing the entire boulevard. 

At least now I know the purple peril and in our hypothetical new yard will have my shovel at the ready, no mercy for such plant invaders that crowd out native species. 

But at least garden regrets can usually be mended with sufficient time, energy and money. 

Unlike other sorts of regrets that visit in the dark hours, all entwined with half-formed wishes, dreams, and fears. 

These are the thoughts you keep to yourself. At least, I do. It's not the place I want to live.

Regrets aside, it is a grief to leave my well-loved garden behind. Unless there was some way to know that the next person who lives here will love it, too, which there isn't. They may dig it all out and replace it with sod, which doesn't bear thinking about. 

But there is an up-side in leaving it behind: the opportunity to convert more useless lawn to native plantings, and a fresh start. Anyone who says you can't leave your problems behind wasn't talking about a garden, because you definitely can. 

Maybe I will dig out a beloved plant or two to take with me to inaugurate my new garden, wherever it may be, along with everything my regrets have taught me. 

*Not only are bur oaks magical and magnificent beings in their own right, they also support over 600 species here in the Great Lakes region. If it is native to your homeland, plant one. Don't wait!

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