the daily gardener
What is good weather? That is a very good question for a gardener. Some places are blessed with conditions that make plants thrive despite complete lack of interest or effort. People who for years tried unsuccessfully to grow a garden watch with incredulous envy out of their car windows the never ending wild meadows just exploding with colorful fragrant blooms.
Every frustrated gardener, at least at one point in his life, made negative comments regarding his garden’s poor soil, inadequate precipitation, amount of insolation, plant material quality and other people’s better luck. Sometimes they are right. The seasoned veteran will preach that there is no garden that can not be made beautiful with enough patience, knowledge and correction of the offending faults.
The truth is that sometimes it just works, for no definable reason. You plant things together and they support and shade each other, they exchange vital nutrients and they layer their leaves to shade their intertwined roots and protect the water in the soil. They naturally keep the weeds away, because under their dense leaf umbrella, not even weeds have a chance to develop. A hierarchy develops with time and each plant gets just the right amount of sunlight and water. The whole plant group becomes a system in equilibrium, self sustaining almost (and in some cases it really is). This is the image one sees in established gardens, a conglomerate of such systems, in perfect harmony with each other, looking like they have been there forever. Once the plants stake their ground in your garden, good luck trying to uproot them. But why would you try to disturb a working element in such a sensitive biological system?
Sitting at the table under the tree canopy, a book in one hand, the other hand mindlessly rubbing your temples, you lose track of time. The splotches of light filtered through the branches above move slowly opposite the sun path, while the day merges into evening. The light becomes gentler, more tired, almost horizontal. Around you two full walls, one half wall, a tree for a roof, and a balcony: your private outdoors. Noises come and go, the chirping birds, the passing cars, people chatting while walking their dogs, the syncopated rhythm of joggers, the soft rubbery noise of bicycle wheels.
The words on the page start fading as the evening shadow descends into the night, the contours are less precise, the contrast becomes nonexistent. Your cat comes around rubbing against your leg to remind you of dinner. The kids go in and out of the house abruptly, slamming doors, running down stairs and giggling plenty. Night flowering plants release their fragrance in the warmth of the day’s end, and as light becomes more scarce, the sounds and scents intensify. The cat settles down in your lap, purring.
Eerie little blue solar powered garden lights dot the darkened contours of the plant masses, and you guess more than you see the familiar garden path, the lilac bush, the archway above the gate. White flowers look like reversed shadows in the headlights of passing cars. The heavy summer night air, thick with humid fragrance, slowly cools down into a breeze.
Porches and balconies are extensions of your house ambiguous in function and level of privacy. You are neither in your own territory, where you can lounge without care, nor in public, where you have to present your more formal image. Reminiscent of older time summer evenings with rocking chairs, swings and pitchers of ice lemonade, the balcony compels one to a poised sitting pose, like those you see in photographs from the beginning of last century. A beautiful porch or balcony is as important as your livingroom, even more so, since this area of your private space is open for everyone to see. So make it enchanting and old fashioned, with climbing roses, wisteria and clematis, with bright pots of geraniums and honeysuckle vine. Or modern and angular, with carefully trimmed topiary and extravagant looking exotic plants. Either way it’s fine. After all, it’s all a matter of taste.
A garden is not a garden without a place to sit in the shade. There has to be a little alcove out of the way where you can inconspicuously sit and watch the world go by, if only for a minute. Where kids drop their toys while playing during the day and then make you go out to get them in the evening. Where lights and shadows are as important as shapes. Where you can lift your hand and pick up a grape, a flower or a seed pod. Where the little picnic with miniature teacups and saucers is set up. If nothing else, just a place to look at and think about sitting in the shade.