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A View From the Woods - A Slow Garden - 7/18/11

Fri, Jul 15th, 2011
Posted in Columnists

You'd never know it if you watch those garden makeovers on television, but a real garden is not a project to be completed in a rush and then enjoyed later. It is a never-ending interaction between the gardener and nature, always changing and always fascinating. It is a journey, not a destination.

One of the ways to enjoy the journey is to simply slow down. The more I just wander out to the garden with no plan in mind, the more I discover what is really going on there.

I like to carry my bowl of granola outside early in the morning and pick a few berries to top it off. Blackcaps and red raspberries are in their prime now, while the blueberries are just starting to turn blue. I sit on a bench, and savor my breakfast at the same time I'm taking in the big picture. Sometimes I stroll out during my work day at the computer to clear my mind. As I focus on what is fading out of bloom and coming into bloom, snatching a sugar snap pea or two to munch, I accept the whole garden as a gift and take pleasure in what is there right now, weeds and all. In the evening as the light turns golden and fades to dusk I try to close the day with a peaceful garden ramble as the fireflies rise by the hundreds and bats flit overhead.

I freely admit that I can also be a madwoman of hard work out there, hauling mulch and hoeing weeds and harvesting baskets laden with more salad greens than any two people can eat. I certainly have not mastered the art of the slow garden. Yet I am trying. I want to tell my brain to stop storing up urgent tasks to be checked off the list. A slow garden is not necessarily less work. Yet it doesn't have to feel like work if you go slow and steady. In fact, it curiously begins to feel like fun.

Sometimes, hopefully more often than not, I am present in the here and now, marveling at how everything grows and dies, and peering closely at each miraculous bee and flower. I wonder, who made that huge spider web? What bird is singing? Look at that amazing backlit thunderhead cloud... How many kinds of bees are on that pink mallow plant?

My sympathy goes out to all who are besieged by swarms of gnats (or whatever they are) this year. For some reason the bugs are tolerable up here on the hill. Sometimes I swipe the back of my neck with a bunch of lemon balm leaves, and that seems to keep most critters away.

Oh sure, even when I am in the groove I can't stop my hand from pulling a weed. Yet I'm finding that if I take time to breathe in the beauty of the place, and see the interwoven strands of soil, plants and creatures, my mind naturally lets go of doing and busyness.

A new book called Slow Gardening by Felder Fushing is on my list of books to read. A very wise excerpt on the website reads, "Here are some rules for today: Don't sweat the small stuff. It is all small stuff. If you can't fix it, flee it or fight it, flow with it. Gardening is more than digging, planting, harvesting and feeding birds. It has deep psychological pulls and thrusts that help get us up and outside and through the day." According to the website, he emphasizes planting perennials so you don't have to replant every year, reducing your lawn size, and acceptance of a little disorder. He advises gardeners to relax, take their time, start small, and follow seasonal rhythms.

The truth is that there are few hard and fast rules in gardening-try your own ideas on pruning or moving plants around or anything else. You might fail, but you've still had fun and it is after all your own plot of ground on which to live and learn and create.

Most important is to be in daily contact with your garden. The work will still be there tomorrow, but today is a gift to savor. When you start observing and living in your garden, you'll find yourself delighting in the relationship. Slow gardening is a lot like slow food-enjoy the season, enjoy knowing where your food and flowers come from, and enjoy the process as much as the product.

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