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.

by M Sinclair Stevens

21 Responses to post “Welcome, Central Texas Gardener”

  1. From Nell Jean:

    Melissa, such a treat to stroll through your garden through the eyes of the camera. I tried not to miss a thing, even the glimpse of rose rocks. You capture the spirit of the garden when you included other bloggers in relating how you write the ‘book’ we all want to read.

    The barite roses were a gift from Dee @ Red Dirt Ramblings who came to Austin for the first garden blogger Spring Fling, in 2008. They serve as another reminder of the many lovely and generous people I’ve met through garden blogging. — mss

  2. From nancy-texas:

    Melissa, It was a treat to hear you speak about your garden and why you started blogging. Your statement that you wanted to read about how plants really grew and what they looked like in Austin sums up why there are so many wonderful bloggers in your area. Thanks for sharing

  3. From Susan / Austin:

    Very cool, Melissa. I loved seeing your garden again. And hearing you talk about it. Congratulations.

    Hey, you! We’ve missed you in the garden blogging world. You have such a lovely garden it should be on CTG. — mss

  4. From Iris/Society Garlic:

    Just saw CTG on television and am glad I can go back and have another look around here. Your garden is so peaceful. I like what you said about annuals. I’ve just recently begun appreciating their value and adding more to my garden.

    In the summer, my garden receives too much shade for the standard drought tolerant flowering perennials that you find in many Austin gardens. And then there’s the problem of watering it all. So I try not to fight with summer. The overwintering annuals provide a way for me to garden in the pleasant months from October to May. — mss

  5. From Diana:

    MSS — It was just lovely. Your garden was in beautiful form, and she captured your spirit right along with it. You must be so proud — it was the perfect showcase of your never-ending work.

    Can’t wait to see YOUR garden on CTG. — mss

  6. From Deb Wilson - Austin:

    Beautifully put. I’ll second your vote for the talents of Linda L. She is an Austin treasure second to none. I didn’t stop to view the video before reading (felt like eating dessert first!) so will go back with a hand ready on the “pause” feature so I can savor the views after I’ve absorbed the interview. Thanks for sharing your spaces and your experience.

  7. From Robin at Getting Grounded:

    MSS, congrats on a job well done on CTG! You seemed quite comfortable. I really enjoyed your casual viewpoint and approach in your garden style; and that pond looked wonderful! And what a difference in the cactus and agave from April to now, hmmm?

    The garden changes so rapidly. That’s one reason I’m so driven to document it. When I compare old photos to the present, I’m amazed by the transformation. I used to think I was progressing forward step by step. Now I see that progress in the garden ebbs and flows like a tide. — mss

  8. From Linda Lehmusvirta Austin Texas:

    Thank you! I didn’t need to see your garden in person to know it was a place of passion and spirit. For one thing, I’d seen it through your eyes on the blog. And when I met you, your passion, sincerity, and enthusiasm rang true in person. Have you ever seen how your eyes glow when you talk about the garden? That is what gardening is all about, the revelation of the person behind the garden. Your garden expresses it so beautifully. Real gardener? Hey, you’re it.

  9. From Annie in Austin:

    You and Linda made something wonderful together – it’s a really special addition to the CTG series of garden visits. You seem as beautiful and eloquent on TV as in real life… something your genius of a director knew how to convey. Proud to know both of you!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  10. From Lori, Austin TX:

    Oh, I finally got a chance to watch it, and your CTG segment is awesome! Your garden looks amazing, and you seem so comfortable in front of the camera. I loved how you got to talk about your gardening and blogging philosophies, and your passion for both really came through. Linda is amazing for capturing and conveying it all so well!

    Linda manages to bring out the best in everyone and everything. — mss

  11. From Pam/Digging:

    Great interview, MSS, and wonderful images of your garden too.

  12. From renee (renee's roots):

    MSS, I tweeted about your CTG interview, but I’ll say it again here. Lovely,insightful, well done in every possible way. And you are so right about Linda. She is indeed one of Austin’s special treasures.

  13. From ESP, Austin:

    Hi MSS.
    Just saw your CTG segment (I had it recorded). Really interesting interview. So Zanthan Gardens was the first Austin garden blog? Wow! You trail-blazer you!

    Really enjoyed the tour of your garden and hearing your gardening philosophies.

    I started blogging in 2001. I detailed the history a couple of years ago in Old in Blog Years. I don’t know of any other Austin garden bloggers before 2006, when it started to catch on. That year, Kathy Purdy @ Cold Climate Gardening wrote a series about early garden bloggers, Garden Blog Pioneers. At one time I used to know everyone. Now I hardly know anyone. — mss

  14. From Steve Mudge(Fort Worth):

    That was great! What a wonderful philosophy you have–a gardener’s gardener. That’s the top of the list in my book!

    I’m glad you got to visit virtually. When I visited Cheryl’s garden on the tour last week, we talked how it takes another gardener to really “see” and appreciate what the gardener has done. Of course, after seeing her garden, I felt the need to rush home and get to work on mine. Now that it’s fall, I want to give into an all season garden. I want more, more, more. I have to balance wanting everything with the reality of summer. — mss

  15. From Jenny Austin:

    I finally had the chance to see your spring garden. What a wonderful filming and it was good to hear a little more about your philosophy on gardening. It made me think, do I have one. I’m not sure about that or even if I did, could I express it as eloquently as yourself. I always like to think of having a little bit of someone else’s garden in mine, and I do have some of yours. Your wonderful oxblood lilies and the opuntia. Thanks so much for sharing both these plants and your garden with us all.

    I didn’t realize I had a garden philosophy–just strong opinions. I only wish I were more skilled in bringing my philosophy to fruition. I love passalong plants, both giving and receiving. My whole garden is filled with the generosity of my friends, all of whom I’ve found through garden blogging. So everywhere I look I’m reminded of them. — mss

  16. From Cheryl in Austin:

    I think it’s hysterical that you would call yourself a ‘putterer’…you’re such a passionate gardener and you take it all very serious! I just watched the show this morning via web and it was marvelous! You look lovely, your garden…perfect and you were very eloquent in your phrasing and explanations. Great job!

    After seeing your garden, I feel more like a putterer than ever. I don’t have any of your design sense so I work in a slow, haphazard, meandering and distracted way. Even though I’ve been working on it for a long time, it’s evolving very slowly. Come over for a visit some time. — mss

  17. From Chookie, Sydney:

    It was lovely to see your garden. I think I’m like you in needing the tactile part of gardening for planning, and enjoying the constant change. I’m not very good at visualising — was just looking (again) at Pam from Digging’s one-year post. I can see the after shots are vastly better, but can’t see what’s wrong with the before shots most of the time (probably because there is an absence of rightness rather than a presence of wrongness?) And I am so jealous about Austin gardeners getting a whole TV show to themselves!

  18. From jodi (bloomingwriter), Nova Scotia:

    Lovely posting, M. The part that made me laugh out loud is the section where you admit we shouldn’t say “you should have been here last week the — was in full glory”. We all do it, yet when we visit other gardens we don’t notice that something is past (or at least I don’t) but revel in what is present. Guess that’s a good way to live our lives, too.

    I think I believe just the opposite. I think all that “living in the present” stuff makes for a very flat experience. I appreciate both the resonance of memory and thrill of anticipation, not just in my garden but in my life. — mss

  19. From Cindy, MCOK:

    Melissa, that was a delightful look at your garden and you’ve got a wonderful on camera presence. I feel very fortunate to be one of those who’s visited your garden and even more fortunate to have seen the Oxblood Lilies in glorious bloom! I’ve planted those you gave me and they’re doing well so I have high hopes for them.

    I’m glad you got to see it in its good season on the video. The last time you were here was right before all the rains when it looks its worst. If the oxblood lilies fail you, I’ll have more to share next year. —

  20. From Gail:

    Melissa, It was a lovely interview and the music she chose to accompany the piece was exquisite. Relaxing, insightful and honest…I thoroughly enjoyed the time…wanted an even longer interview and peek into Zanthan Gardens.

    Thanks. Linda let me select the music and I chose a Japanese piece from my favorite movie, My Neighbor Totoro. Linda had to search far and wide to find a version of it that they had permission to use but finally did. It was the “Easter egg” in the video that my Japanese blog friends recognized instantly but wouldn’t seem overtly Japanese to anyone else. I’m impressed you noticed it. — mss

  21. From angelina:

    That was fantastic! You are so natural in front of the camera talking about your garden, I fall apart in such circumstances. It was so enjoyable seeing you talking and seeing a more thorough view of your garden. Your blog doesn’t really show how large it truly is. And it is even prettier seeing more of it as a whole (as opposed to the gorgeous macro views) than I imagined it was. I guess I mean it looks more orderly than my impression of it was, though each planted space might be said to have a riot of plants in it, each space is also within a specific boundary. I like that a lot. That’s why I like formal kitchen gardens so much.

    I think Linda (the interviewer, editor, and narrator) makes my garden seem larger than it is. She certainly is able to weave structures and themes into it that I don’t know whether other people can see. Like I said, the garden (and I) both benefit being seen through the lens of her eyes. That said, I’m glad to have the opportunity for you to “meet” me, since our relationship has been primarily through our words. — mss