Monday, September 1, 2014

Why I garden....

“We cast a shadow on something wherever we stand, and it is no good moving from place to place to save things; because the shadow always follows. Choose a place where you won't do harm - yes, choose a place where you won't do very much harm, and stand in it for all you are worth, facing the sunshine.” ― E.M. ForsterA Room with a View

There was a time, early on, when I gardened to make things more beautiful for myself; there is nothing I love so much in life as a nice view.  

The many hydrangeas that line the driveway go from a soft green
to a downy white to eventually, the most delicious blush hue...

Like all people who have gone to Europe before me, I came home and realized that what I really needed was a GARDEN.   Very Henry James of me...

Oh sure, I had a small garden before, but now I wanted paths, potagers, perennials.


And so, over the past six years, I have toiled away and now it is getting to be quite lovely.

I would like to say that the pot has been artfully placed.
It has not.  In fact, it is has been lying on its side for a month.

Early on, I used my garden as a way to relieve the stress of a job that could be overwhelming.  

Weeding was a meditative practice and still is I guess.

I cannot tell you what I think about when I weed.

In fact, I am sure I don't think about anything at all, but can that really be so?  If it is then I am thankful, since having some time without racing thoughts is a joy, is it not?

And there is always a surprise.

The butterfly bush which suddenly decides to bloom just as the butterflies are
contemplating leaving...

The phlox that suddenly decides it wants to be the showgirl
in a white/yellow composition.
Who am I to argue with a phlox?

The glorious fragility of the white phlox buds,
no doubt worried that Ms. Pink is coming any time now...

But something happened a few years ago and it has been creeping up on me ever since.

Around 2010 or so I realized that I stopped gardening for the view and discovered that now I garden for the birds and the bees.

Where I live, bees are not doing so well.  We spend so much time putting junk on our grass and food and not enough time thinking about the impact of that junk.  Our bees may be our canaries in the coal mine.

Most of my plantings are in support of them and I am happy to report that 2014 was a bit of a bee-naissance here in my garden.

Not the number of bees of my childhood, so many bees that woe-betide the child who was so stupid as to walk across a field of clover sans sneakers....

But those days are gone for now.  And so I must help all that I can.

So basically, whatever the bees loved, they got.

They REALLY loved my lavender.  And so I cut very little this year and left the rest to my voracious friends.

think of the sachets that might have been....

In fact, my whole garden has a forgotten fairy tale quality about it these days, for no weeding here till after the frosts.  Everything belongs now to the birds and the bees and the butterflies, who are feasting constantly.


I admit to a grand love affair with bee balm,
something I share with the bees and the hummers...

I admit to being a little in love with this phase of the garden; the glorious decadence of June and July has slowly given way to a last gasp of beauty.


I stay out of everyone's way except to watch and enjoy.  The weeds will still be there in a month...

The unruly can be cut back..

You wouldn't think there would still be something sweet in there,
 but the bees keep finding it...

Early in the morning we see the bees resting on the flowers, so sleepy that you feel you could give their backs a good scratch.  Later in the day is quite another matter.

Soon the bees will be gone.

My hummers are eating nonstop, readying for their grand adventure.

There is a metaphor here in this last gasp of beauty, allowed to age naturally and beloved for doing so.

So much in life now is about extending youth.  About extending June at the expense of September.

But September is just as lovely, just as beautiful, albeit in a less flashy way.

There is a knowing in the late summer garden that doesn't exist in the June one.  The tropical storm weathered, the heat wave, the pool parties, the wine in the gazebo, the visits by groundhogs and skunks and squirrels and deer.  The surprise plant that suddenly showed up, uninvited.  The anthill that refuses to be moved.

We give too much up if we hang on to those early days.  And by allowing the garden to fade, allowing the bees and the birds the luxury of eking every last bit of life out of the plants, we ensure that next year's garden will be just as lovely, if not more so.

We ought to do that for ourselves as well.  We ought to love ourselves just as much in September.

So now I garden for them: all the salamanders that I almost step on when I head out for my morning walks, the wee frogs, the hummers that perform 18 hours daily free of charge, the bees, the dragon flies.  One night two weeks ago, Barry and I took Indy for an evening walk and there were hundreds of dragonflies in the air around the corner.

We believe we live in an age without miracles, but I tell you, when you have hundreds of dragon flies flying around your head, you feel like Alice through the looking glass.

I garden for all the of the creatures impacted by our wanton disregard of the world around us due to our false belief that we are separate from them.

And I can tell you that I have spent more happy hours in the company of the bees than in many of the useless meetings I was forced to sit through in my career.  At least their stingers are apparent!

And in the end, I garden to make my corner of the world a little lovelier, more gentle.  And if you need that respite, and I believe we all do, I encourage you to visit, or better yet, create your own.

“To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.” 

And that, Janet, is why I garden!

Have a glorious Labour Day!  Stay Safe out there!

xoxo wendy


  1. Hello Wendy,

    This is a truly delightful post. How we have enjoyed wandering that garden path alongside you listening to the gentle hum of bees and birds, busy about their business.

    How beautifully you capture the last rays of summer and the essence of a delicious autumn yet to come. A perfect metaphor for life itself and a rallying cry to us all to take everything at a slower pace.

    For it is true that one misses so much in the heady days of youth. Striving hard to climb the career ladder, speaking before thinking and revelling in all that is new and different. But, how lovely it is to reach the maturity that your garden has now, the full glory of Hydrangeas in their blowsiness and the overwhelming scent of Phlox adding to the magic. Yes, this is paradise.

    1. Thanks Jane and Lance - the gift of the garden is the gift of nature, isn't it and we so often forget that we, too, are a part of nature. And you are right - for me paradise is the quiet moment and the now. Will work hard on keeping that going in January!

  2. Wow Wendy I think this might be your best post ever, so beautifully written, I do love your voice which comes out of your writing clear as a bell!

  3. GORGEOUS! I LOVE all of it, esp. your writing! I cannot wait for your books to come out!

    I just love the change of seasons here on the east coast -- in hawaii, where I grew up, we had one single season, and although it is always breathtakingly beautiful, after several years, one can't help but take it for granted. After being in California for college (and I thought there was a great change of seasons there! ha!), I would go back for Christmas and it just didn't seem right, Christmas present in the morning and the beach for the afternoon. Finally, out here, each season has its own very distinct beauty and I love all of them.

    As for gardening, I would so love to have your garden! My problem is that I have no gardening skills and although I've bought gardening books, they are just no fun to read! There is too much to learn! Are there shortcuts, or I do have to slog through to reap any garden benefits??

    1. Audrey, You may be reading the wrong books. As a botanical novice, I can only provide 2nd hand guidance but from a conversation overheard in Chicago's Gethsemane Garden Center (about two weeks ago) which is the most celebrated garden shop in town, I overheard them reference a name that sounded familiar and questioned them when our turn came up.
      The one older fellow says he always recommends 'The Gardening Year' by Lance Hattatt as being the best of its kind which he said is available on Amazon.

    2. Thanks Audrey (and GSL for chiming in!)

      I have taken no courses nor am I in any way, shape, or form an expert. I am a complete novice who makes a ton of mistakes. My advice would be in this order: 1) talk to your local nursery folks and get advice. 2) invest in perennials and get some help so that you have things blooming all summer into the fall. It took me a while to get there 3) be ruthless about dividing - I am wretched about that, because in May I think it looks so bare. I am going to walk my garden in the next couple of weeks and make a list of the things that have to be divided or moved next spring so I don't forget! 3) for the east coast, there is no better book than Barbara Damrosch's from Maine. It is my bible. The web is also very helpful. And I am definitely off Lance Hattatt's! Barbara explains simple design, which is helpful. And finally, what I know for sure is that your garden needs structures to play off against - walls, fences, sheds, arbours, whatever it is. All are helpful! In the end, you learn by doing. I always think perennials are the best bang for your buck. Walk the nursery, see what you love, and bring it home and play with it. But always buy at least three of whatever you buy! You will make mistakes for sure, but you will have fun! Oh and soil - amend that soil with compost!

    3. Thank you both, I ordered both (among others), as well as some peonies. We went to our local nursery to refresh our pots and was hoping to see the peonies too but was surprised to see find they don't stock them. My first time ordering OR planting; we'll see how it goes!

  4. Beautifully done Wendy; I rank this up there with your tribute to Bud and your elderly cousin. I'll bet Henry James could spend a pleasant afternoon in your garden.

    1. Ah, but do you think I could spend a pleasant afternoon with Mr. James? I dreamt last night I was cooking for Gordon Ramsay and it didn't go so well!

  5. Somehow I believe your garden has no problem blooming for such a wonderful caretaker. The bees and butterflies, birds and bugs are very glad you garden. Much love.

  6. We too have been studying the flora and fauna around here this year. You have expressed it so well here. This summer we have seen an abundance of everything (including the dreaded mosquitoes) in a lush and expansive way. Truly enjoying the variety of hydrangea that are bountiful this September. Now if I were only closer to the ground so I didn't mind the weeding so much!

  7. Love this post...last gasp of beauty....Gardening is so meditative and healing.

  8. Oh what a lovely post! How sad that Bees are on the decline where you are, and I love that you are giving them all some respite in your little patch. We don't have a bee problem (or native bird or butterfly problem) here, quite the opposite… but I did used to spray the aphids on my roses, except that then I read about how it kills the natural predator too, the ladybird. So now I don't, and the aphids seem to disappear, so the natural cycle seems to work after all.

    1. we are a pesticide free home, but sadly that cannot be said for many other gardeners and neighbours who are desperate for perfect grass. However, many of our local lawn services now offer pesticide free applications and more and more of my nieghbours have switched, which is heartening. most of our grass is not grass at all, but clover and dandelions, which I like anyway. I, like Mother Nature, am not anal retentive...

  9. What an amazing post, Wendy, I think this is the best one yet. Bees are of special interest to me and their decline is extremely worrisome. Keeping the garden for the bees and the birds is really wonderful. I read somewhere that urban bees actually do much better than bees in farmland, because of the abundance of flowers, and pesticides are not so heavily concentrated around areas of human settlement. Also, it is so true about how everything these days seems to be about extending youth and creating an artificial state of perfection. It is probably the main reason I find it difficult to do beauty blogging, because much of it seems to feed off an unhealthy obsession with trying to stay young. Anyway, thank for a wonderful read!!!

    1. Louise - I have been thinking about this a lot in the last few days, especially having watched so many clips about Joan Rivers since she fell ill. I must say, I like a good face cream, but I am vehemently opposed to injections and facelifts. I think they are soul-destroying, though I suspect I am more and more in the minority. Give me my think lips anyday to the pillows I see parading which everyone knows is fake. If women would only stand up for themselves on this one...

  10. I agree with everybody else,you are a gifted writer and gardener!
    Love the serenity your garden exhudes!
    I am too inpatient to do big things in our yard and my husband is the more practical type. So the flower pots are my touch of me.Hopefully that will change one day:)

    1. Ina, I think it something you either eventually "fall" into, or not, but I always loved a garden and would spend hours in beautiful ones in the city, so you may get there eventually!

  11. What a beautiful garden and such lovely writing! Your garden is obviously one of the loves of your life, which shines through in your evocative, heart-felt post. I had to read it twice, as it was such a pleasure! Thank you.

  12. Popping in to say hello and thank you for the truly lovely post Wendy! I was wandering about my garden as well yesterday, enjoying the fading blooms and all of those busy bees. I'm the same, I let it go a bit wild these last weeks. Hope all is well with you!

    1. Nice to see you pop in! I miss you on IG!

    2. Hi! So happy to hear from me! I am still missing your blog, but bet you are up to all kinds of wonderful things!

    3. Thanks Wendy and Ina! It's been madness here these last months, and just when it was settling down, school has started up for the little one. So soon I should be back visiting more often! :)

  13. wendy you are such a beautiful writer! what a lovely post. in that huge pepper tree of ours, way up top there is a bee hive in there that is so busy!

    your garden is absolutely gorgeous. i hope you post more photos of it more often. x

  14. This was such a beautiful post. Thanks for sharing your garden and the reminder that I should be enjoying autumn in my life also.


Kindness is a virtue...