But now? I march out in May and June, armed with clippers, secators, and a hand spade, saying brief hi to returning friends but delivering a definite goodbye, farewell, auf wiederzehen, adieu to the few remaining garlic mustards and dandelions. In some sections, a machete wouldn't be out of place in my kit. All the planting I really do any more is to move the players around. I'm blissfully happy, cultivating my garden, as Voltaire recommended, and while I admit to affecting a somewhat neandrathal lope in the spring, it's worth it.
My tardy epiphany about gardening hinges on the concept of happy volunteers. Green ones. For years I sincerely but hopelessly tried to cultivate a sun-drenched paradise. I dreamt of a kitchen garden whose bounty would spill into my kitchen. The fact that our multitude of mature trees pretty well all top seventy feet should have told me that tomatoes and their ilk are not on the menu. Looking back, it now seems totally obvious that sun-loving plants wouldn't make a go of it.
For me, the slow learner, gardening has revealed itself to be the practice of learning through failure but, by default, embracing happy accidents.
So who did want to come out and play? At the beginning, just more hostas (thank you, Myrna and Marilyn). But we let the ferns, trout lilies and violets move in and reproduce. Eunonymous thrived, even when the deer grazed it late each winter. And when Jon created acid beds for rhododendrons, azaleas, hydrangeas, and holly, the garden seemed to gain faith in itself. Smaller trees like the elegantly-shaped cornus alternifolia (pagoda tree) started to show up and some young walnuts have volunteered to replace the post-mature black locusts in the near future.
There was one particularly wonderful surprise. When my spade hit a something big and hard under the treeline (where nothing ever really grew for twenty years), I suddenly realized that we had a long-buried rock garden. Bonanza. It's the original dry sandy soil, but miniature sedum does splendidly. And in our precious sunny patch right at the street, I planted a good-sized perennial garden with successional flowerings - daffodils and violets give way to labium, dead nettle, bleeding heart, and wild geranium, with Mute's blue irises hard on their heels. Now the peony buds are swelling. And the billets-doux of passing dogs don't matter at all to plants we don't intend to eat
This elderly painting records a summer moment in our back garden when I was teaching myself to paint in watercolour. Where there was grass there is now a stone patio shaded by a large sugar maple.
*Re: weed seeds: a Cornell study dating back to the 1860's involved burying glass jars with seeds in them. Every year they dig them up and plant a seed or two; the vast majority are still viable. Wow. Good in many many ways for Earth, but profoundly discouraging for those of us who inherited a weedy property! On the plus side, both dandelions and garlic mustards are edible -- I have a dandy spring soup/salad combination I have dubbed: "The Gardener's Revenge."