Do you have to plan a garden to become a gardener?

>> Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I want to thank Michelle of Garden Rant for her thoughts on garden planning. She states that garden planning is a ‘poisonous myth’.

I have to agree with her, garden planning made a paralytic, indecisive, procrastinator out of me. As a first year perennial gardener, I feel that my insight in this matter, being as fresh as it is, affords me some expertise on whether or not planning is ‘an important step’. I have been planning my perennial garden, literally, for years. I have drawn up so many plans I can’t even remember where I have put them all. Every house we have ever lived in has become a masterpiece of gardening excellence, if only in my own mind. Why did I never act on these most excellent plans? Because I didn’t feel I could pull it off.

Meeting the so-called ‘requirements’ of a true garden such as creating focal points, balancing ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ colors, creating a pleasing symmetry, and timing blooming factors for all-season color in order to be worthy of the distinction of being a garden and not just a plot of soil with plants on it was downright daunting.

I wanted something that would stop people in their tracks and exclaim their admiration. If they came to my door with a desire to learn the secrets of my masterful talent, even better.

But alas, I was fearful of taking the second step. What was the second step? What was required to take my plan from paper to full blooming reality? Should I overwhelm the soil with all things organic in an attempt to call forth those masters of soil tillage, the earthworm?

Should I hire a designer to get the all important sign-off on what I was certain was ‘the’ plan that would draw every garden periodical in the western hemisphere to my doorstep to learn my secrets?

What if I started my plants at the wrong time of year and they all died? What if, just after planting my precious beauties, our city became the scene of the most epic swarm of the most voraciously hungry insect population to ever darken our skies? What if, no matter what I planted, bees shunned my yard like the plague? In other words, gulp, what if I failed?

After all this planning, I still had cold feet. Nay, I had become so paralyzed with fear of failure of not living up to expectations of gardening experts everywhere who repeatedly recited the mantra of ‘plan, plan, plan that garden until you’ve got it right’ that I had finally reached the point where I would allow a garden nursery, Bluestone Perennials, choose the plants for me.

Yes friends, realizing that time will not stand still while I try to decide when to force my ‘frozen-to-the-chair’ butt to get up and actually plant something besides vegetables, the only decision I could make was to let someone else decide for me. I had reached a vulnerably weak moment in the career I had made of garden planning and came to the realization that I would probably never be able to reach any higher zenith in pursuit of the perfect garden than I already have without a good swift kick in the pants.

That kick in the pants came in the form of 59 plants that were guaranteed to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Guaranteed to meet the all important requirements of a perfectly planned garden i.e., ‘long season of bloom, different foliage textures and colors, and their ease of care’. I felt as if a giant weight had been lifted from my shoulders. If the landscape did not look beautiful, hey it isn’t my fault. Blame it on Bluestone Perennials. See, it says so right there in the catalog. Guaranteed satisfaction.

After planting their planned garden, I must admit, I felt that I had somehow cheated, and yet been cheated. I felt that, having not adhered to the unwritten law of a true gardener, ‘Thou must plan and plant your own garden’, that I cannot wear the badge of a true gardener.

Perhaps my guilt stems from the lingering effects of the poison I have been fed by gardening ‘experts’ attempting to indoctrinate me into the belief that I have to plan in order to become a real gardener.

Maybe if I told you that I bought this ready made garden for only one plot, then maybe I could be forgiven my transgression of trying to become a gardener overnight. I do have several other plots that remain a work in progress and are slowly being filled with ‘whim’ plants. For those plots, I confess to planning, although, not one of those plots actually matches my plans. Except for the shape of the beds.

Looking back on it now, I think that, maybe, buying that ready made garden helped propel me towards become a true gardener or, at least, it put me on the right path. Some of those plants died. Most survived. I have now gone through the trauma of loosing plants, just like a real gardener. I have managed to nurse some plants back from the brink of death, just like a real gardener. I did actually buy perennial plants without any real idea of where they might end up, all the while knowing they might not survive wherever they went. If nothing else, this alone shows a willingness for independence from expert gardeners and shows that I am gaining enough confidence to go my own way, just like a real gardener.

I still have yet to go through at least one winter to make one complete cycle of being a practicing perennial gardener. Maybe then I can feel better about calling myself a real gardener. Oh, and about planning, I don’t think I will fret too much about it anymore. I have built up an immunity to their poison because I have come to realize that plants are going to make it or not whether I plan or not.


Kylee November 24, 2007 at 8:37 PM  

You have arrived. I don't trust those people who actually plan every square inch of their gardens. Do you know how many times I've ever gone to a garden center to purchase an exact thing for my garden? About 2.8% of the time and even then it was likely I went back there to get something I saw there the last time. Do I always know where I'm going to put whatever it is that catches my eye and bring home? Again, about 2.8% of the time. No, probably even less than that.
Don't worry. You're doing it right and you'll learn so much in the process. ;-)

Greg W November 25, 2007 at 12:27 PM  

Thank you Kylee for the encouragement. It is fun to attempt the 'mix and match' method of gardening. Serendipity usually delights so much more often than planning.

Kylee November 25, 2007 at 12:38 PM  

That's so true! When you plan things, you know what to expect. When you "just do it" you get those "squeal of delight" and "honey, come look!" moments that make gardening so seductive!

Dave November 25, 2007 at 8:01 PM  

Sometimes just having a general idea and getting the plants you like works out great! With our landscape I haven't written down much of a plan but I know what trees and shrubs I like and want to plant. Knowing that I can do whatever the season or the mood strikes me. Lately most of plant buys have been based on the discount racks!

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