Remedial Gardening

My wife Suzanne and I used to have our best fights in the garden. I don’t remember her actually throwing a trowel at me, but on several occasions I’m sure she came close. I’m also sure it was my fault.

I had an idea that we would garden together. That she would hold the plant while I dug the hole. Or vice versa. But when I envisioned this scene of horticultural harmony, I didn’t consider a couple of facts. First, that I had married a strong-minded woman who wouldn’t necessarily agree with me on which plant to place where. And second, that, thanks to an old-fashioned apprenticeship with European-trained gardeners, my idea of cooperation was a lot like that of Captain Bligh on the Bounty.   As the senior in gardening experience, I felt entitled to issue directives and advise on technique.   Suzanne, who comes from a large family of Irish women (five sisters, no brothers) doesn’t tolerate mansplaining.

Eventually, after enough heated exchanges, I began asking other couples how they gardened together. Most, I learned, didn’t. The common pattern among partners who both gardened was to split the plot into two halves. The proprietor of one half didn’t venture into the other without an invitation and never ventured an opinion unasked. One woman whispered to me that when her husband was away on business, she would move the best plants from his half to hers. Is it coincidence that they are divorced now?

The best advice I got was from Fred and Mary Ann McGourty of the late Hillside Gardens, a most remarkable garden and nursery in Norfolk, CT. They explained that although they shared the entire garden, they never worked on the same area together at the same time. Likewise, they had a rule that whoever genuinely felt most strongly about a plant got his or her way. When forced to make a choice between horticultural purism and co-existence, in other words, they had chosen the latter.

I have taken these tips to heart. I may not like dahlias, but Suzanne loves them and so we have dahlias and I do not denigrate them. Suzanne has agreed that we will only plant natives in our garden in the Berkshire woods, except for the daffodils in the lawn that she cannot live without. I now keep my gardening advice to myself unless asked.

Our garden is less reflective of my tastes and prejudices, but more unpredictable and interesting as a result. Besides, the remedial course in cooperation I have taken in the garden has had a good effect on our relationship as a whole. We still disagree on occasion, but I no longer worry about flying trowels, indoors or out.

Posted by

Thomas Christopher
on October 17, 2016 at 9:32 am, in the category Shut Up and Dig.

Comment List

  • Mary Ann Brueckner 09 / 07 / 2015

    Hannes and I are often out in the garden at the same time but he’s the veggie person and I do the flowers. Works well for us!5DFV

  • Garden Rant 26 / 09 / 2015

    Flying trowels – I love it! Thankfully I’ve never had to share a garden. I”m too opinionated and bossy in the garden to even try that. Susan.

  • Laura Munoz 04 / 11 / 2015

    My husband created two 85 ft free-form beds on either side of a brick pathway and said, “These are yours. Plant them any way you like.” Those beds absolutely hooked me on gardening. His bed (garden bed, not sleeping bed) was also HUGE and was located in the front yard. We did collaborate on stuff, but his bed was HIS bed. He passed in 2006.

  • Kathy Shadrack 19 / 11 / 2016

    TOTALLY identify! We have “His and Hers” gardens. We knew from the start that there would be no marital harmony in the garden. I get any sun. I am greedy for space, he wants what he can manage. I grow everything, he grows hostas. We learned early on that just because HE was growing a hosta didn’t mean I couldn’t also grow it.

  • Laura 20 / 11 / 2016

    Suzanne sounds like a true gem! I have already given my 4 year old her own garden plot so she can wreak whatever havoc she wants on it (rather than my gardens). Her mad planting actually turned out beautifully. It’s been a lesson to me in embracing chaos!

  • bittenbyknittin 20 / 11 / 2016

    I’ve heard it said that two gardeners may wed, or a gardener and a rose, but two roses never should. Apparently, this is not always true! So I guess I am fortunate that my SO is a helper but not a gardener; he does dig the holes, but only under my direction and supervision. Sometimes he does have a good idea, though, especially if the project involves power tools.

  • DaveP 21 / 11 / 2016

    In our garden my wife is generally in charge of flowers and I operate in the vegetable garden. Loved the lead about flying trowels.

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