October 31st, 2009
Welcome, Central Texas Gardener

Last weekend, I had the privilege of touring some wonderful Central Texas gardens. Not only did I admire plants and plantings, I was inspired by the creativity of all our hosts and encouraged by what they had accomplished themselves on regular-sized lots. These were very personal gardens, each reflecting the unique vision of its gardener.

I’m always astonished at the courage gardeners hosting tours show inviting hundreds of strangers to tramp through their gardens. Even the most respectful visitors are bound to cause a certain amount of damage, grinding the lawn underfoot, walking into beds to snap photos and trampling on plants. I can only guess at the months of preparation required and the worry about the weather. These gardens had to survive two years of drought, one of Austin’s hottest summers ever, and then a sudden deluge of rain before the tour. I don’t think I could do it.

So, when Linda Lehmusvirta, the producer of Central Texas Gardener, asked me if she could film my garden last April 1st, I was dubious. Aside, from wondering if my garden blogger friends had put her up to an elaborate April Fool’s Day joke, I’ve seen the gardens featured on Central Texas Gardens. Some of them I’ve visited in life. Many of them are designed by landscape architects, or by people who write garden books, or by avid plant collectors active in various plant societies. You know, real gardeners. Me? I’m just a putterer who likes working in the garden and writing about it.

Besides, Linda had never seen my garden. Did she understand that it was just a messy collection of plants that had no structure or design, no interesting hardscapes, no garden rooms, no places to sit, no fountains or ornaments? Did she know my one major construction project had left a scar through my garden and a pile of building materials stacked on one side. Did she realize that I’d let the front lawn die during the drought and lost half my roses? Did she know that Zanthan Gardens is basically a one season garden and that most of the year it looks pretty unprepossessing? I invited her to come and preview it before making a decision to feature it. I just knew she would show up with her camera crew and be disappointed.

But Linda has something something gardeners wish all visitors had. She intuits the spirit of a garden and comprehends the intention of the gardener. Most gardeners don’t see their gardens in the present. We see its possibilities.Those 3-inch tall seedling, we see in full flower. We also know the entire cycle of bloom in our garden. We remember those nondescript Mexicans plums covered in the first white blossoms of the year. Gardeners know how to unsee, too. We look past a weedy spot because we know that next week we’re going to pull those weeds and edge that bed and plant it out. Our inner gardening eye skips over the weeds, the bare spots in the lawn, the tools left out, and the unswept walks.

In garden visit etiquette we are told it’s a no-no to say, “Oh too bad you didn’t come last week, when the tulips were in full bloom.” or “If you had only waited until next week, when the larkspur had filled out a bit more.” We can’t help ourselves. Gardeners are tormented by the one-time visitor. A photograph–that rigid snapshot in time–imprisons the garden. A garden is a living thing, ever-changing in the flow of time. Of course, I do take advantage of those fleeting moments of perfection. Every day I find new compositions in the garden to write about and photograph. But what’s there one day is gone the next and if you visit my garden, you’ll find it a very different place than the garden on this blog. It’s the contrast between the ideal and the real.

It takes a special kind of person to see more than what’s there, to understand the underlying intentions of the gardener, to see what is meant to be. Linda is one of those special people. I’m glad that you get to see my garden through her eyes.