In “My Garden (Book):” Jamaica Kincaid describes a visit to historic Painshill Park in Cobham, Surrey, England. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams visited the park in 1786. Kincaid tells us the park that Jefferson and Adams saw was an “English landscape at its most beautiful, its most manipulated, its most contrived, its most convincing …”
Over the next 150 years, the park was well maintained, until World War II, when nature began to reclaim it. More recently, a trust was established for preservation. From her visit, during a period of restoration, Kincaid wrote a reflective essay about gardening and its effects on those who garden.
She writes: “Creating a garden is … an act of will” that “becomes the place of beauty which the particular gardener had in mind …” And further: “In a way, creating a garden is the most useless of creations, the most slippery of creations … It won’t accrue value as time goes on. Time is its enemy; time passing is merely a countdown for the parting between garden and gardener.”
Consider the act of will that you’ve exerted to create the garden of your mind. Consider the hard labor, the digging, the weeding, the planting, the deadheading, pruning and hauling out of “garden waste.” Consider the creative energy you put into plant selection, garden design, matching plants for color, structure, foliage and flower. Consider the money you’ve “put into the ground” as fertilizer, soil amendments, insecticides, fungicides and miticides, and water, water, water. Finally, consider the pleasure you’ve given to yourself, your family, your neighbors, and your community because you dared “the most slippery of creations.”
For 30 years, Karen and I have forced much wildness out of the yard but nature yearly sends thistle seeds, dandelions, forget-me-nots, ever-multiplying Icelandic poppies, and the weed that forces everything down to its lowest level (including the weary gardener): The cursed field bindweed. The threat of wildness, an onslaught against the contrivance that is our garden, demands constant vigilance, or begrudging acquiescence to its ultimate power to reclaim the territory. As much as we like to think we’re in control because we are the gardeners, it is finally an illusion. But, while the illusion lasts, we have a “place of great beauty.”
Before we took control, the usual “foundation junipers” and a mass of iris were in place with surrounding turf. And before that the land was agriculturally productive. And, before that, forest and grassland, and an abundance of birds and four-footed animals dominated. After us, more change will occur. Perhaps some of what we have done will remain; perhaps nothing will be as it is now. It will never be as it was, regardless. It cannot be preserved, only cared for, differently.
And so, nature’s interests are more often not our own, and we often have little respect for its interests. We are “vexed and disappointed” when nature doesn’t do it our way. While we have the chance, will and imagination, we try to have our way with nature, knowing it will win, eventually.
This week in the garden
•July 4 is the traditional time to give your lawn its midsummer feeding. Even though we have had rain, make sure the grass is getting a deep soaking. It will get hot one of these days.
•If you live near a forest, start mowing weeds that could fuel a wildfire.
•Early summer flowering shrubs should be pruned right after they finish blooming. Now would be a good time to finish that task up.
•Spring bulb foliage should be dying down now. Remove it, but mark where the bulbs are with sticks so you don’t dig into them later in the year.
•If the recent windstorm took out the shade for a garden bed, start gathering sheets, burlap or commercial shade cloth to give the plants some protection.
•If knapweed and other noxious weeds are a challenge in your yard, now is a good time to go after them with weed killer before they flower.
•Look for bargains on annuals and perennials at the garden centers now. There is still time to tuck a few more into your beds.
•Fertilize roses and begin deadheading hybrid teas to keep them blooming.
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