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May 2004
Cultivating My Own Garden
By Stephanie Miller


February 1997
February 1997

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.




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