Beyond ideas you might borrow from garden books, magazines, gardens you visit, the pleasure of invention is waiting for you. That daring leap into the unknown, that adventure of discovery, is what turns gardening into magic.
I've posted one of my favorite sayings by Lao Tzu on the refrigerator door. When I was struggling with a stressful career in social work, a helpful coworker, Christine Teragli, calligraphed it for me. The original paper turned tan, crumbling with age, but I've found it so inspiring I've recopied it twice.
Here's an excerpt:
Always we hope someone else has the answer.
some other place will be better...
This is it. No one else has the answer.
No other place will be better....
There is no need to run outside for better seeing.
Nor to peer from a window.
Rather abide at the center of your being....
Deep within us a wellspring of creative energy waits to be tapped. A little quiet time to reflect and imagine helps us enter this wonderful place. Dare to go there, to discover what you love. Dream up new ways to build your garden, to plant what stirs you. What colors excite you, wake you up to the world's beauty? What scents help you feel at ease, peaceful in your very own special place?
This is the same inner space where poems are born, where you find just the right words to say to a friend who is troubled, where laughter bubbles up when you hear a frog plopping into the pond. Pay attention to what delights you when you stroll through your neighborhood or walk around a nursery.
I sometimes talk to my plants, whispering 'Come on, baby, grow, put down those roots,' but even more often plants murmur to me from their benches at nurseries, in their own mystical language. Those that go home with me emanate an irresistible radiance, plant talk for 'Take me home, you know you can't live without me!'
Entering the Creative Zone
It takes a while to wind down from the fast pace of contemporary life. Recently a friend said it takes three days of her vacation before she can relax completely. Sometimes we don't understand how wound up we are until we take a break. Many of us don't have the luxury of going on retreats or traveling to slower cultures. But we can create a quiet haven right in our own gardens.
For me, weeding is as calming as sitting on a meditation cushion and watching my breath. Weeding doesn't require much thinking - it just asks for concentration. The mind has to focus on searching for the particular leaves of weeds, on carefully tweaking them out without accidentally digging up a treasured young plant.
While weeding, I feel a great sense of accomplishment - I'm freeing perennials and shrubs from competition by clearing the soil of intruders. How the orange geums sparkle once white-flowering cress is removed! Each hosta looks happier without all those distracting little grass seedlings surrounding it.
As I dig out each the dandelions' taproots, I notice how strong they are, how determined they are to survive. All forms of life want to grow and multiply; there's abundance everywhere. Still, I am here to protect my plants, so the weeds must go.
When I enter the world of the garden, cares and concerns drop away. I am present to the red earthworms, the black beetles, the tiny ants, all intent on their lively occupations. Every plant is also busily engaged - roots spread, leaves unfurl, buds swell. I am part of this quiet world, tending my plants, dreaming about how to combine them in interesting, beautiful ways. Just a caretaker, happy to be here.
Staring is Necessary
The other day as I drove to the library, I noticed my neighbor Doug in The Thinker's pose, staring at his front border. I refrained from honking - I know this pose very well from personal experience. Gardeners must stare with the eyes of the imagination, conjuring up new combinations. When you see a gardener leaning on a shovel, looking vacantly into space, let them be.
This is the gardener's trance as they enter the zone of creativity, figuring out where to plant their dozen dahlias, imagining whether a coral or pink rose will be better in the one sunny vacant space that remains to be planted. So gardeners, I urge you to stare and dream, to revel in making your very own unique garden.
• Elk Rock Garden of the Bishop's Close Annual Mother's Day Plant Sale, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., May 8 and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., May 9. Plants for sale are propagated from the garden, including rare dwarf conifers, perennials and new this year, vegetable starts. 11800 S.W. Military Lane, Portland 97219. Admission free. For more information, check the website, www.ElkRockGarden.com
• Native Plant Sale, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., May 15 and 16, Audubon Society of Portland, 5151 NW Cornell, Road, Portland 97210. Admission free. For more information contact 503-292-9453 or audubonportland.org/sanctuaries/plant-sale.
• Native Plants as Food, Medicine and More, presented by Judy Bluehorse Skeleton, 7 p.m., May 11, Heron Hall, Audubon Society of Portland, 5151 N.W. Cornell, Road, Portland 97210. Admission free. For more information contact 503-292-9453 or audubonportland.org/sanctuaries/plant-sale.