Are There Levels of Gardening?
I just sent this essay off to be published in our garden club's pamphlet. Comments please. Is this true for anyone else or only for me. imput please... Lu
ARE THERE LEVELS OF GARDENING?
Looking back on my haphazard gardening life of approximately 35 years I realize that I have gone through different levels of gardening. Not everyone goes through all these levels, or goes through these levels in the same way, or in the same amount of time or with the same results. For the reader of this article, this essay is about my personal garden and my experiences. Your style garden and your idea of gardening can be or will be entirely different from my type of garden.
LEVEL 1 - I was twenty five years old when I moved into my present and only home, a Dutch Colonial House situated on 2 acres. I loved the house and the unpresuming lovely lay of the land. I had an innate love of plants, loved to garden, but really knew not much about gardening.Â I also had very little money to spend on plants and shrubs and I gratefully accepted anything anyone gave me for my yard. I worked the good earth many hours each day and loved it.
I filled the yard with a million common hostas, the big green ones and the slug lovin' variegated ones, which were free for the digging from Mrs. Lewis's garden. I bought cheap sale plants and planted anything in any free spot. The bigger the better. Spreading Yews were big and cheap and boy did I have them. Because of the interesting slopes, dips and natural curves of my backyard and the luck of having mature trees on my property, my yard was pretty, but still could not be called a garden. I was in the "flowers 'round a tree" stage and Âsingle row of tulips round anything."
My family and friends were very appreciative of all I did, and oohed and aahd about everything. This was all the reinforcement I needed. I was on my way to the Guinness World Record for the most hostas and dull shrubs ever seen in an American yard. Still, this was mine and I loved it.
Should this be called a garden? Yes, I think so. There are many gardeners who are on this level and are much fulfilled. This is their paradise and they love it. Many will never leave this stage of gardening for many reasons which may unfold to you in the rest of this article. I stayed on this level for about 2-3 years.
What is Level One of Gardening?- This is an innocent, nascent state of being with very little experience and knowledge. You are like a young child or puppy discovering life. You play and plant with reckless happy abandon. With possibly only your foundation plantings put in professionally and possibly only a slab of cement for your patio, your property is relatively bare of interesting trees and plants. This may be your garden at age 25 or even at age 70. You may find at age 65 (retirement) you now have time and money and your latent love of planting is just able to burst forth. With the extra money and time you have now, which you may not have had at age 25, you begin to plant and plant and plant. You are more lucky than the strong 25 year old "cause your ackin' ol' bones keep your new yard becoming deluged with the likes of hostas and large common plants. Even so, you garden with abandon, great love, enthusiasm, and yet not much knowledge.
LEVEL 2ÂWhen I discovered garden magazines and garden books, a new world opened up to me. I began to collect books on gardening, joined a monthly garden book club and devoured everything I read on gardening. When I could not buy another book that month, the libraries around our area had hundreds of books on gardening. I went to visit many libraries, new and old book stores, and collected all the used magazines I could find on horticulture.
Old Mrs. Ridge took me to her garden club, The Four Lanes End Garden Club in Langhorne, where I met people of my ilk who conversed about plants and flowers with some knowledge and much love. I went on a few garden tours with the ol' gals and digested everything I saw. I then began to be more selective. I must have that particular tree or that special flower. Oh heavens, there are more than two varieties of hostas. I have got to have them all.
Because of the 60 year old large trees and tall deciduous shrubs in my yard, the garden always looked good to me. And those hostas were great fillers. After a few more years (1 or 2) and with a whopping $20.00 extra in my pocket, I could splurge on professional advice. I asked a nursery man to come visit my yard and give me a few ideas on planting. He came on my terrace for only a half second and said, "Help you? - You have nothing here," and walked out to his truck. I was embarrassed and furious. What a teacher he was. Well, he wasn't a teacher as nursery people should be. (That's another article.) Here he had the perfect chance to educate an Âeager, young student with Âbig bucksÂ in her hand" and he runs away. I calmed down after a few weeks and realized he was correct. And with the $20.00 still in my apron pocket, I was able to buy more plants and more hostas.
Then destiny yanked me out of my garden and saved me. My husband's job took us to live for two years in Worcester, England. I thought I was going to miss my garden very much, but that did not happen, because the head gardener at Worcester College said I could have the patch of land in front of my flat to plant in, and I could have anything I wanted from his greenhouses and beds.
What is Level Two of Gardening? This is when you begin to educate yourself with books and magazines. You discover there is another world outside your ÂyardÂ and other people are gardening and their yards are not yards but Âgardens.Â Anyone who has a passion about any subject should maintain a book collection on that subject. Why? Your love and passion should have a solid basis to maintain its effectiveness. Books make you grow. When you speak about your passion, you must have facts to back up your position, not simply emotion. Having a few ÂHow toÂÂ books is not enough. You are aware of the saying,Â a little knowledge is a dangerous thingÂ especially for those who know just enough to misquote. Having a well rounded collection of garden books on many aspects of gardening is necessary to understand how much you donÂt know, should know, and need to know. Reading about horticulture and visiting gardens expands your horizons. Critical analysis is a must in this stage.
This began my Third Level of gardening. Through the tutelage and willingness of this gentle garden man I discovered British gardeners, British gardening and British beds. Neatly edged beds. Beds of wall flowers, beds of boxwood, beds of tulips, beds of scrumptious perennials, beds, beds, beds. I became aware of shapes, foliage, gradations of colors, evergreens, structure, landscape, neatness in gardening, height in the garden and a better choice of plants. While walking on this campus I digested everything I saw he and his gardeners do. I also visited every garden in the Cotswold and mucho gardens throughout the whole island. I bought more English books on gardening for my library at home and came home with a million good ideas and a lot smarter than before I left. This was my tour of the continent... After this tour of self knowledge and being surrounded by English people who talk about gardening all the time, I became really hooked on gardening and things began to jell for me.
When I came home to Langhorne, the first thing I did was edge. By edging, my plots became beds. I continued to plant a lot but my choice of plants were more selective. I then discovered that I had more confidence because of my knowledge, and that I must trust my instincts and plant what I love.
I was in the prime of my life, strong as a peasant woman, and could garden for hours on end. I planted hundreds of bulbs, started a rose garden, lily patch, perennial beds and annual beds. Aah, youth, health, enthusiasm and dreams.
What is Level Three of Gardening? Travel and visiting other gardens. Visiting estate gardens as well as small gardens. Also, visiting and reviewing garden centers and nurseries. Visit, visit, visit.
A famous antique dealer was asked how one can develop a feel to know if an object or a piece of furniture is Âgood.Â His answer was,Â look at as many pieces of antiques as you can and you will develop an Âeye.ÂÂ Look, look, look. Let me qualify this visiting of gardens. Your visit must not only be on the level of a browser or a gazer wanting to pass a few delightful hours till lunch time, but your visit must be purposeful, sponge-like and critical in that you ask questions and learn about everything you see. Now, as a more educated and humbled gardener, go to your own garden and apply anything you can use in your situation. I donÂt think I have ever visited any garden that I have not learned from or used some of their ideas.
I now progressed to Level Four: After years of visiting, what seemed like a zillion gardens and zoos in England, Italy and all of Europe, I continued visiting gardens and zoos in especially Bucks County, Eastern Pennsylvania, Arizona and in our Southern states. Zoos? Yes, zoos. Some of the best horticulture can be seen in zoos, which as you know, are called zoological gardens. I tell my husband that we are visiting this or that zoo because of the special horticultural interest it has, but really, I am also there because I have this almost infantile love and excitement in viewing and being with animals whose natural habitat are ÂgardensÂ. With my knowledge, confidence, instincts and love of planting, I began to refine everything. Part of the reason to refine things is because I am much older now and I can not plant those hundreds of bulbs anymore.
Landscapers helped me discover my style. Some of the small gardens I visited were planted by gardeners with no thought of landscaping. Plant material is more important to some gardeners than is design. One garden I remember had a hodgepodge of great specimens planted wherever they could thrive best. There was no thought of design or arrangement. The only thought was where is the best spot for this plant? And plop, it went into the ground and thrived beautifully. The principles of landscaping should be incorporated in the garden, and visa versa. Many landscapers are now using the principles of gardening in their projects. This means, more interesting plant material is used in the foundation plantings. But good gardening is a combination of both landscaping and gardening.
I discovered I love arbors, climbing plants, Japanese split leaf maples, rare small trees, and wide grass paths with meandering beds on each side. I love stone walls, steps, brick or stone terraces and fountains. Out went my millions of hostas. The whole of my boro is now filled with my "free-dig-your-own-hostas". Hostas were replaced with more substantial boxwood hedges. Spreading yews and forsythia were replaced with Hinoki and unusual miniature conifers. I also discovered I like a slightly formal look with tall things enclosed with boxwood. Not the tidy 6 inch high English box but the larger Korean box. I sometimes am a sloppy gardener so the enclosed beds look like I am neat and have things under control.
Planting hundreds of annuals are now a thing of the past, except the few my husband puts in. Perennials were down to the sturdy few I could handle. Most of my dogwood died, due to anthracnose, but were replaced with more unusual trees. After visiting the Atlanta, Georgia Botanical Gardens I became a conifer junkie. I also fell in love with crape myrtles after spending a few days each spring for the last 5 years visiting gardens in Virginia during their annual Garden Week
Level 4 is when you have been gardening for many years and you finally have a feel for what the plants and you need. You have read many books on horticulture and your knowledge goes beyond what plants you have in your garden. So many times amateur gardeners stay on a level where they can only speak intelligently about plants that they have in their own garden. If you go beyond azaleas, rhododendrons, hostas and dogwoods, it is like talking in a foreign language to them.
Level 4 seems to come with experience and knowledge. You have seen a lot, read a lot and planted a lot. You have met so many gardeners and seen so many gardens that are light years beyond what you know and have done. Meeting these rarified gardens and gardeners humbles you but yet inspires you to continue perfecting, learning and workinÂ the dirt.
On level 4 there is a necessity to speak about your shrub, plants, conifers and trees not only using the common names but using the Latin names. The necessity is because your interest is in more uncommon and select plants. You donÂt want just a maple tree but a shagbark maple,Â Acer grisium.Â Or not only a fir tree, but a China fir, ÂCunninghamia,lancelota.Â Do not judge a gardener as being ÂuppityÂ because he is using Latin terms. He is simply dealing with more complex, sophisticated and higher order thinking than you may be familiar with.
I have noticed that professionally trained gardeners, horticulturalists and amateur gardeners with much experience gravitate into a specialty. They become specialists or experts in their love. For example; they have a great rose garden, or a grand British garden, or delve into only annuals, or have magnificent rare trees, or rare conifers, or collect only native plants, or plant only flowering shrubs, or have nurtured a woodland garden. This does not mean that they are not versatile, but that they have become collectors and aficionados. Some of this selectivity, especially true for the amateur gardener, is because their olÂ bones cannot handle the whole world of plantings anymore.
I am nowhere near level 5 of gardening but I wish I would have had the knowledge that a trained Horticulturist has when I was in my 20s and 30s. I wish I would have developed a more insightful eye years ago. Because of this lack of knowledge in my early years, it seems I spent a lot of time and energy on hard, intensive gardening that was quickly erased through trial and error. Either by me or by Mother Nature. In my next life, I am going to have much available cash on hand, hire a wonderful Hort man, know exactly what I want in the garden, specialize in mini conifers, plan the garden on one sheet of paper, have mucho help installing the garden, and finally I am going to sprout wings and fly to the moon.
Luceal, an amateur and opinionated gardener