Either/Or...Existentials and the Garden

Summer is the time when the Atlanta gardener faces some genuine moral dilemmas-- and summer, friends, is pretty much upon us.  Winter and spring found us happily conditioning the garden to handle the onslaughts that certainly arrive with humid 90-plus temps.  The cooler months carried Romantic notions of hand-pulling each weed and visions of knocking aphids off a summer crop with a happy blast of water.   Now it's getting hot; the kind of dilemmas I'm talking about augment with each humid degree.  Should I obliterate that obscene blight with a chemical treatment or just remove the mature, beloved oak altogether?  Is it worth spraying the virulent poison ivy in order to be able to walk to the compost bin on the back of the property?  Is supplemental water for ornamentals an acceptable proposition for the water-conscious gardener?

The more I garden the more I realize these dilemmas rarely carry simple solutions.  Acquiring a better understanding of soil communities and microbial life means I can't be cavalier with my impact on the soil.  Sure, I can get relatively immediate results with a systemic fungicide, but I know I will be destroying salutary fungal mycorrhizae in the soil.  A pschychiatrist can calm agitation with a heavy barbituate, but is that drug with it's accompanying side-effects the long-term solution for the patient in question? The more I think about relatively small gardening decisions, the more I read them as a script for being a human--that is, one who by nature is capable of changing, building, destroying my surroundings, is crippled and empowered by a million small decision points in the course of a single day, and who must cultivate a human life within the larger context of nature.  What is a garden other than this intersection between nature and culture?

So as a gardener, especially one who wants to design using plants (i.e., has ideas and expectations of how plants are going to "work" and behave in relation to each other and their surrounding elements) I am keenly aware of a desire to orchestrate changes--to engineer developments-- that impact my surroundings.  Today, however, I am thinking more about how the garden, and Nature's hand in it, effects changes on me, and not just aesthetically either.  My success and satisfaction in gardening (and life!) are proportional to my willingness to observe and adapt to dynamic feedback.  If I can't do this, I'll be one hell of a miserable gardener.

As often as I look around when gardening is as often as I learn something new.  Sometimes it's something altogether new (e.g., Blueberries are Ericaceous) and sometimes it's something I needed to learn yet again (e.g., make sure to mark where the Podophyllum are before they go dormant this year).  But what I really get to learn when gardening is more about who I am in relation to my environment (stubborn? grateful? impatient?).  I learn about my urges, yearnings, instincts (how do I react when slugs wreak havoc on my rose?). I learn to be ever surprised and to value the unexpected (the location of those self-sown Bulbines is better than where I placed them originally), to coax growth instead of choking it to death, to be empathic, to problem-solve.

I learn to recognize my own shortsightedness, to accept change, my personal limitations, and entropy--even death--as part of the beauty of a garden.  I attempt to let go of what I want to force to be the case and be honest about what actually is the case (e.g., Delpiniums aren't ever really going to grow here in any satisfactory way).  It's with some of these small lessons in mind that I welcomed the softest of rains on Friday morning...grateful for the bit that was.


  1. Kristin,

    You recently commented on my blog (grounded design) and it was so thoughtful and interesting that I immediately booked it over to your blog to see more. This blog is exquisite! You are a compelling, thoughtful writer and designer. Can't believe I hadn't come across this earlier. Look forward to following your blog.

    Happy gardening,
    Thomas Rainer

    1. Hi Thomas-
      Thanks so much! I had a similar response when a friend forwarded me a post of yours with the subject 'I'm sure you know about this awesome blog!" I read back through many of your posts and realized I had been missing out. Thanks for the follow, and I look forward to seeing more of what you're doing--in your blog and in the landscape.


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