I’m thrilled to have Rebecca Sweet writing a guest post for GGW. She is a highly regarded garden designer, a respected blogger, and co-author of a wildly popular book on vertical gardening, Garden Up. Besides all of these accomplishments, Rebecca is what I think of as a ‘soulful gardener’. Read this article and you’ll understand why. Fran Sorin
A group of us garden designers recently blogged on the topic getting from here to there. Most wrote about gates, stairs, pathways and the like. But since, I’ve thought about how the phrase might represent a different kind of gardener’s journey: mentally getting from one place to another.
Gardening is a journey – how many times have we heard that? When a treasured plant unexpectedly dies, a family of gophers decides to move in, or a severe drought devastates our garden the concept of ‘it’s all part of the journey’ is what gets many of us through these disappointments.
Sometimes, though, it’s not that easy.
From my own personal experience, gardening is what pulled me out of a mind-numbing depression when I was in my thirties, going through a divorce. When hit with this suffocating sadness, I couldn’t stand the thought of gardening. After moving back home with my parents, with my small daughter in tow, my mother wisely took her time slowly introducing me to the joys of gardening again, letting me come around at my own pace.
It started with a nursery-pack of pansies that just showed up one day, with her ‘innocent’ request to help find a spot for them. Sneaky, isn’t she? She knew that enough time had passed and I needed to go back into the garden. And the moment my hands touched the little clusters of roots and I inhaled the scent of the damp soil, the bubble that enveloped me began to disappear.
A client of mine is going through something similar. Her husband of 40 years left her. The sadness I see in her face is something I recognize, and that I’m so looking forward to helping erase. As we travel through her old and outdated garden filled with oddly clipped pittosporum, overgrown masses of agapanthus, and ivy that has taken over a once beautiful perennial bed, I can see she’s overwhelmed and doesn’t know where to begin. This garden of hers is like her current life – neglected, dated, uninspired and needing some serious attention.
While I’d love to remove everything all at once, wiping the slate clean and starting fresh, I know that would be too much for her to handle right now. So we’re taking baby steps and only focusing on a small area near her patio’s sliding glass door. Why did I choose this area? Part of her morning routine is to sit under her covered patio, drinking her coffee while reading the newspaper. Until we figure out the overall design of the garden (something we’re working on throughout the next few months) I want her day to begin by experiencing a bit of beauty up close. A glimpse into the future as to what her garden can become.
We’re heading into winter soon so I need to pay particular attention to plant choices. My strategy is to hit her depression hard with sweet smells and surprising blooms. I’m thinking sarcococca rustifolia (Sweetbox) is a perfect selection as it’s not only evergreen but will fill her room with a sweet fragrance in the bleak months of February and March. I’ll also use helleborus argutifolius (Corsican Hellebore) with its late-winter surprise of happy lime green blooms. The third plant I’m thinking of is the old-fashioned daphne odora ‘Marginata’. Blooming directly after the sarcococca, the heavenly scent from the profuse clusters of delicate pink flowers are sure to penetrate her soul.
Oh, how I’m hoping this little trio of plants can help guide her ‘from here to there’.