My Own Garden
By Stephanie Miller
Contrary to popular opinion, more than one tree grows
in Brooklyn. I have two in my own yard. This small piece of earth and
I are still coming to know each other. We came together in June 1996
when my partner and I bought the house related to the yard. Often it
is called “the garden.” My first response to the garden
was intimidation, having previously only experienced window-sill-terra-cotta-pot-herb-gardening.
I was now confronted with an entire eco-system, for which I was expected
to serve as steward.
I armed myself mightily for my new responsibilities: gardening gloves
with those nubby patches on the palm, a new set of tools, a handy everything-you-could-want-to-know-about-perennials
book, as well as a book on composting. All of this in hand, I went to
work carefully weeding, watering and “dead heading,” all
with my safely gloved hands.
As the garden bloomed and grew in the summer sun, it began to reveal
itself to us, and we entered into a conversation. I learned to track
the course of the sun across the various beds; which plants needed more
or less water; which had the most delicate flowers. I also learned the
destructive force of snails and slugs. I began to enjoy my gardening
tasks more and more, soon realizing that those silly gloves are actually
a lot more trouble than they’re worth. I like the feeling of dirt
on my hands, remnants hiding under my nails. And, come to think of it,
that trowel can be a bother, too. Digging with my hands does the job
nicely and is much more satisfying.
We began to see this outdoor space as an extension of our house, part
of our living space, and as such, an opportunity for creative expression.
I pored over my handy perennial book, learning about soil preferences,
light needs and growing environments. I decided upon no color scheme—a
garden should be an exciting, enchanting place, not a coordinated bedroom
suite. With the help of a friend with an extensive background in horticulture
(as well as a contact in the wholesale nursery business), we invested
in new additions for the garden. I must confess to acting out the stereotype:
I talked to the new plants as I nestled them into their holes—welcoming
them to our spot of earth, hoping that they would be healthy and content
and become part of our world and we theirs.
Around the time I acquired my gardening tools, I also picked up a welding
torch for the first time. Welding may seem a far cry from gardens and
earth, but metal and flame have an earthiness all their own. I am beginning
to envision sculpture in our garden, albeit on a very small scale. This
has helped me to look at the space we call garden in an entirely new
way. I begin to notice shape and silhouette, shadow and texture, where
before I was overwhelmed with color and smell—of the plants, earth,
birds, and insects who live with us. I have begun to wonder what shapes
would belong in this space, to enter meaningfully into the conversation
and not screech it to a halt. It would be sculpture I could plant—maybe
changing as viewed in the shifting light and new seasons. I am getting
pretty far ahead of my abilities at the moment, but these ideas are
the seeds out of which the final project will grow.
Before putting the garden to bed this year, I joined the ranks of gardening
enthusiasts and planted flower bulbs. A friend had read in a magazine
about a particular style of bulb planting that sounded as though it
could yield some interesting variations on the theme, and I found myself
as excited to try this as I normally would be to open the cover of a
new book. I hated waiting for the appropriate cold weather to sink the
bulbs. The bulb-planting became a strangely social activity, as many
of the bulbs were going in the front yard, encircling the flowering
crabapple tree. Passers-by on the sidewalk expressed an interest, offered
advice, wished me well, or explained my curious antics to inquisitive
children (“what is she doing hunched up under that tree, mom?”).
Being a sucker for immediate gratification, this task of waiting for
spring flowers and foliage does not rest easily with me. But this is
perhaps the most important lesson I am currently learning from the garden:
patience. I have, on occasion, been able to sit quietly on the ground
and simply smell, watch, and try to hear the sounds of leaves stretching
to the sun and roots to the water. I have not heard them yet, but—hey—I
am new at this.
Stephanie Miller is a Consulting Editor of Satya.
She lives in Brooklyn.