My garden photography is featured in the Spring 2017 Gardening Issue of Your Home & Lifestyle Magazine, a publication for real estate professionals and their clients. The article (by Jeanine Matlow) talks about how I’ve “decorated” my garden beds with outdoor ornaments I’ve collected or received as gifts over the years. I’m thrilled to see my photo blog mentioned in this lovely article, too.
I have never had so many good ideas day after day as when I worked in the garden.” — John Erskine
My favorite summer pastime is working outside in my garden — a pastime that inevitably leads me back to the keyboard in my home office. The following gardening essay was published in 2009 in At Home in the Garden, an illustrated anthology of garden writings.
Trowel and Error
After all these years, I still can’t muster the nerve to call myself a real gardener. Real gardeners know that a garden is an ecosystem as well as an art form. Real gardeners spend hours studying seed catalogs, and can identify every plant in the nursery by its botanical name. Always victorious in the battle against slugs, real gardeners stay attuned to nature’s early warning signs and know exactly what to do when leaves turn yellow.
A real gardener I am not — but I’m getting there.
Gardening as a metaphor for living is a cliché as old as the Gardens of Versailles. But I just turned fifty this year, and it occurs to me that plotting my life’s course has been as tricky as maintaining the perennial beds I started a few years ago. My garden has provided clues along the way.
A Midwest native, I’ve always lived in established neighborhoods with mature trees, so I’ve had to seek out plants that will tolerate plenty of shade and depleted soil. Even now, I’m still experimenting, still trying to get it right.
Bob and Jane, my elder neighbors across the street, have watched my green experiments from their porch and offered advice. They often catch me watering a newly transplanted hosta or puttering around the herb beds in my pajamas on sunny mornings. Returning from vacation one summer, they brought me a ceramic garden marker that reads, “Gardens grow by trowel and error,” which pretty much sums it up.
In my early years of home ownership, I followed a much safer path.
Back then, I planted only what a master gardener would call “amateur annuals.” In my own defense, I was trying to raise a child while working at home. I wrote shorter newspaper articles — never had the nerve to start a novel — and barely had time to fuss with a potted geranium, let alone a crop of needy, exotic perennials.
I was also a house-proud perfectionist, always worried that I’d be judged by my foliage and found inferior. Afraid of taking risks, I aimed for an instant gratification garden – a showy but conventional patch that didn’t require much care. But now that I’m more adventurous and, well, less pot-bound, I’m finally reaping the rewards of an unruly perennial garden.
By nature I’m not a patient person. I hate waiting in line and sometimes I’m too fidgety to meditate. But my stalled peony bush taught me a crucial life lesson: There are times when the best plan of action is to wait and see what happens. Seeds germinate and flower on their own schedule, and natural processes can’t be rushed. (Like that novel I want to start.)
Last year, in fact, I had almost given up on the poor peony and was ready to move it, which would have been a big mistake. Like me, it was just a late bloomer that needed a little more time, and faith, to take root.
For a day or so, I was tempted to cut those gorgeous peony blooms and bring them indoors to enjoy in a crystal vase. But since I’m still a show-off, I left them outside for all the neighbors to admire.
–Essay and photos by Cindy La Ferle. Please click on each photo for a larger view. “Trowel and Error” is also reprinted in Writing Home, a collection of personal essays on home and family. —
Whether it’s classical urns or pink plastic flamingos, limestone saints or impish ceramic elves, Ionic Styrofoam pedestals or poured concrete birdbaths, you are the curator of your own backyard exhibition.” — Mary Randolph Carter
I believe a garden should be more than rows of groomed beds and well-tended flowers. Just as the interior of a home reveals the personalities of its residents, a garden can reflect the quirks and passions of the people who tend it.
My favorite gardens tend to be “decorated” in the true sense of the word. For instance, I love the little thrill I get when I explore a friend’s herb garden and discover a stone cherub with a broken wing tucked behind the parsley and basil. Or a rusty flea-market bench perched in a bed of roses.
Like the things I’ve collected for my home over the years, most of my garden ornaments have sentimental meaning. Some don’t actually qualify as “junk,” as they were given to me as birthday gifts — including the granite Buddha (from my husband) resting in the Zen garden.
Of course, there’s always room for castoffs in my garden. When my friend Shirley moved to an apartment, she unloaded some of her own garden ornaments in my backyard. One of my favorites is the terracotta rabbit head that peeks out from a gnarled maple behind the patio.
I miss all my blogging friends this summer, but I hope you’re also outside soaking up some Vitamin D. (Remember, we can sit at our desks all winter and stare at the computer screen while the snow piles up.)
Meanwhile, I’ve been working long hours as an extra in several different film projects since June — quite a diversion from writing, blogging, and teaching! When I’m not working or looking in on my mother, I try to spend as much time as I can pulling weeds or admiring the blooms of my early summer handiwork. Here’s to summer! — Cindy La Ferle
— All photos in this post were taken in my garden. Click each one for a larger view.