A Testament to the Spirit of the Gardener

, Crrritic

Guest Rant by Wendy Kiang-Spray

I try not to judge gardener-created art or design because I feel so much of it is subjective.  We all have different tastes.  However, the only aspect I do constantly question is the “fortress look” in deer protection I wrote about here.

Today I ran by one of my favorite could-be-lovely-if they-only-lost-the-cage areas.  I always slow to check out the serene woodland scene, surrounded by netting, and shake my head just a little bit. Today I noticed a new structure around the apparently well-loved hosta .  It’s a ladder-like scaffolding holding the whole thing up.  The gardener, figuratively and literally, has reached new heights with this contraption!

My first inclination was to balk at it. Maybe discreetly take pic and do a little Internet-shaming.  I then recalled the hours I’ve spent recently writing a section in my upcoming book about the many trials the gardener faces – plant diseases, insect pests, clay soil, deer… when I felt a little ashamed of myself, actually.  It occurred to me that the bottom line is that this homeowner refuses to give up on the hosta.  I remember years ago, there was simply a cage around the plant.  Later, it became covered in netting.  Now the scaffolding.  No matter how ridiculous it looks at first glance, it is a true testament to the spirit and persistence of the gardener.

My first season gardening was not successful.  While I thought I would simply be able to do a little digging and plant rows of vegetables, I found my backyard soil was dense with maple tree roots, rocks, and lots of clay to pack it all together.  Did I give up? I built raised beds.  When I learned I didn’t have enough space, I disassembled and rebuilt.  When my dogs trampled everything one spring, I built a fence.  When flea beetles got the best of my eggplants, I moved them to pots in a different location.  I’ve only been gardening for just over 10 years, but it feels like a lifetime.   Yet, every year, I have some new plan for fixing something that failed the previous year.

What about lifelong, expert, or professional gardeners? Do you have a foolproof plan for each season that works? Every time I think I have a foolproof plan, some unexpected force puts a wrench in it.  Maybe it’s a heat wave.  Maybe it’s an unexpected killing freeze.  Maybe it’s a life event that prevents me from getting into my garden as much as I want to.  Maybe it’s the Brood X cicadas! Is there a perfect reliable system?  I suspect not.  There is always more to learn and good gardeners are never willing to give up.  There are always new ideas to try – no matter how attractive or unattractive I personally may think they are.

Wendy Kiang-Spray is a freelance garden writer and is working on her first book about growing and cooking Chinese vegetables.  She gardens in Rockville, Maryland and volunteers with the DC Master Gardeners.

Posted by

Wendy Kiang-Spray

on September 30, 2014 at 8:08 am, in the category Guest Rants.

Comment List

  • Carolyn 04 / 10 / 2016

    The gardener looks through the cage and sees the plant.

  • anne 17 / 10 / 2016

    So true Wendy, about how every year presents it’s own set of challenges! In the garden, and on our farm as well. In fact, we mark the years by what unique thing happened (“That was the year we had scab in the pears”, etc). It’s also what makes each year interesting–sometimes too interesting, but never boring!

  • admin 20 / 11 / 2016

    That is so true that we mark seasons by those unique events!

  • Laura Bell 21 / 11 / 2016

    I’ll admit I still do the shaming thing in my brain at least. It’s not so much about people who are doing things to protect their plants as it is about people who don’t seem to notice their plants – the stakes left around a tree whose trunk is bigger than both stakes together are my biggest pet peeve. They have to see them. For pity’s sake, they mow around them every Saturday!

  • Joe Schmitt 21 / 11 / 2016

    I hit the tender age of 70 last year, a milestone apparently so traumatic that I spent a considerable amount of time this year telling people that I was about to turn seventy next month. I really believed that, until corrected by those who knew better. Anyway, long before that minor embarrassment, I started adapting my strategy for dealing with setbacks in my twilight years. It’s called total surrender, turning belly up, doing absolutely nothing and seeing what happens. I’ve now refined this approach into a proactive perfection of pushing slack to its limits. Seeing just how little can I avoid doing before it bothers me more than I can handle. Sure, there have been a few complaints from the city, stuff like claiming to need their sidewalk back or to be able to see their street signs but, to a person, every average passing pedestrian who comments on my yard, and there are many, fairly gushes about how wonderful, delightful and interesting it is. While out there only inches away from a passersby just the other day, but easily totally concealed, I overheard her saying excitedly, “And he has trails through his garden!” That anyone considers it a garden at all anymore serves only to amaze (and embolden) me. I have a rampant grapevine literally eating my house, leaving but a few morsels for the Virgina Creeper and Bittersweet to fight over. Deciduous awnings, I call them, and we do indeed stay remarkably cool through the summer. The only down side so far has been finding my geriatric, stone-deaf dog out there in the thicket. Calling her is pointless. Unless I can make eye-contact, it’s a really long process getting her back in the house. Long story short, there are not only energetic and determined spirits, there are tired resigned and defeated ones also. And that is turning out to be a really good feeling.

  • admin 21 / 11 / 2016

    I totally hear that side too, Joe!

  • anne 21 / 11 / 2016

    Joe, I love this! More, please. Write something about gardening and aging, from your on-the-ground perspective. My husband and I are a few years behind you, and find ourselves inventing elaborate strategies for doing tasks we never thought twice about doing before. But after reading your comment, I want to explore the delicious invitation-by-aging to let go and see what happens in the garden…or parts of it, anyway! Your garden sounds enticing.

  • Garden Rant 21 / 11 / 2016

    Joe, i second this request. How about doing a guest post here on the Rant? Susan

  • Joe Schmitt 22 / 11 / 2016

    Sure, I’d be honored to, if it can wait a few weeks. Right now I’m gearing up to hold forth at the national conference of the ASCFG, (Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers, for those 2 or 3 of you who might not know about us). Advanced age buys you a little slack but I’ll bet they’re expecting some sort of planning in exchange for the plane ticket, room and meals. I’m pretty sure there’s a topic I’m supposed to cover.

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