Yesterday, a little girl told me a weed is ‘a plant that grows in with all your other plants but you HATE it and you try to KILL it all the time but it JUST NEVER DIES.’
She was right. And I’ve got a few plants I hate right in my garden.
I’ve spent much of this week’s wonderful weather outside attacking the garden before the cold gets here. I’ve pruned, I’ve weeded. I’ve raked, I’ve swept. I’ve trimmed and I’ve sweated. I’ve shifted that much greenery that my bottom-of-the-garden compost pile is almost as high as the fence.
Being outside is a very good place to get your zen on (not your xenon… that’s really different) and it’s no wonder monks spend all their time gardening. It’s very spiritual, once you get past the fact you’re killing nature dead in its tracks. Actually, though, I’m not with the monks on the whole zen garden thing. I like a zen garden as much as anyone else, but stone gardens and bronzed walls aren’t really very zen. I think the real stuff for inspiration is right out there in the big wide world.
I realised about half way through my gardening day that the little girl failed to mention something quite important… weeds have the ability to grow more quickly, more fruitfully and more prodigiously than anything else in the garden. If my garden grew like my weeds did this year, I’d be living in a complete jungle.
Weed number 1 is the sumac, which sends out nasty suckers. Of all the plants people say not to plant near buildings, figs and sumac are the top two. And yet, both are planted right by my barn. Oh goodie.
Weed number 2 is bitter nightshade, which is at once both pretty and a nightmare. It gets everywhere.
Weed number 3 is something I’ve yet to identify. It’s quick-growing with light-coloured woody stems and I’m pretty sure it might be elder. It’s not ground elder. I’m not sure yet exactly what it is since I’ve not investigated it enough to know. I just keep running into it and it is a devil to remove. It grows up through other bushes and it’s hard to get out. I know what it isn’t more than what it is.
Still, you realise a lot of stuff when you have a garden.
First off, you can never get it perfect. Nobody’s garden is perfect. You can work all day on a garden, especially one the size of mine, and you could do that every day in the year and still find weeds and things growing where you don’t want them to, or things that won’t grow where they should, or won’t grow at all.
You can be a perfectionist with a house. A carpet or rug is easy to keep in pristine condition. You can spend hundreds of pounds on a house and make a real, noticeable difference. You can’t be a perfectionist with a garden. You’d explode. If you’ve got some kind of neatness issue, a lawn is going to make you cry. Moss will make you cry. Dandelions and daisies will make you cry. You have to accept a certain amount of imperfection and work in progress. You could spend 2,000€ on my garden and it wouldn’t show. Not straight away, anyway.
Most people can’t make a garden overnight. It takes time. So gardening teaches you about patience and delayed gratification. And you don’t always get to reap what you sow. Such is the life of a garden lover.
A lot of gardening is about paying it forward. You do things for the people who come after you. You plant a tree not for yourself, but for people who might not even know who you are or that you lived there.
You make mistakes, too, and then it’s too late to rectify them. Like planting a sumac near a barn and planting a fig on the other side of it. And other people pay for your mistakes.
Gardens tell a little about each person who tended it previously, though. Like mine tells me the previous owners were practical gardeners who liked their garden to be productive rather than aesthetically pleasing. Not only that, they were a little careless. They put things in without thinking whether it was the best place for them. I thank them for their fruit trees and vegetable plot. They liked to enjoy it too, because there’s a lot of outdoor space. But flowers weren’t really their thing. I wonder what my garden will say about me? My last garden would have told you I love flowers and colour and filling spaces with plants. I love the unusual and I love the pretty.
But a garden is a work. It doesn’t just happen. And once you stop working, it does whatever the hell it likes.
Sometimes, I wonder if God feels the same about Earth. There must be days when he too feels like concreting the whole goddamn lot of it and having a huge barbecue area and infinity pool instead.
Now, pool maintenance. That’s a whole other zen experience of its own, I imagine.