I have been reading a lovely book, Deep-Rooted Wisdom by Augustus Jenkins Farmer, a multi-generational gardener. He speaks to the slow way, the older way of gardening and gardeners. Ways not only pragmatic, but in the new lingo, sustainable, renewable, cost effective. Taught how to root plants, save seeds, and plant by his mother, friends, grandparents, father and others. It sends tremors through my psychic web, and not in the supernatural sense. Many of these techniques I have been doing myself, in a vacuum.
While I have read quite a bit about gardening, in books and periodicals, these techniques are generally not covered and certainly not “condoned” by the folks running the Master Gardener’s course I completed. My Mom has always loved plants and we certainly had a decent sized vegetable garden for a time in my childhood. I cannot recall any gardening lessons, just the eating ones, picking a fresh tomato and sitting in the garden with the salt shaker eating it right off the vine. So, from what ether did my psyche pull these tricks?
A work table in my garage near the back door simultaneously has pieces from projects completed and not so much, other detritus working its way to the shed or into the basement; a backdoor catch all. It’s also the place where flotsam from houseplants and garden converge. Used pots, fertilizer, drainage dishes, seeds. Jars and envelops of seeds; sometimes in paper bags, sometimes on paper towels, paper plates. Not too long ago, electricians were in house, working on the never ending remodeling projects. One of them commented on a paper plate by the backdoor, filled with the seeds from a Eucomis that bloomed prolifically last summer. A pineapple lily called ‘Sparkling Burgundy’. As each flowering stem waned, I harvested it. The flower spikes are very long and covered with seed pods, the best option for allowing them to dry out without losing any seed was a paper plate. So my trove of eucomis seed ended up by the back door, awaiting my next move. The electrician, probably about my age, said he hadn’t seen anyone save off seed like that since his grandfather.
I cannot have florists roses in my home without the overwhelming desire to cut they little heads off and root them, especially if the stem shows some fecundity. I have rooted enough roses this way, with nubile young stems cut from other roses, including those rustled from parking lots and ditches, to know that I have about a 50% rate of return. According to Mr. Farmer, that’s 100% success. I stumbled across this technique quite by accident, and then found out within my circle of acquaintances, their grandparents did this.
Shrubs, like forsythia, oak leaf hydrangea, roses taught me other lessons. These are natural self-peggers, rooting where branches and stems fall to ground level. I gave an assist to these “under gardeners” to create plants to spread throughout my garden, adding to its cohesion. Repeated plants giving the eye a sense of continuation, familiarity as one travels through the garden. A neighborhood of relatives.
And then there’s the self-seeders. I remember a first trip to California, amused by some of the terminology used in the wine industry to create a sense of weight to their product, finding out many of those terms didn’t necessarily mean anything but an advertising ploy, “old vines”, “ancient vines” and a personal favorite, “estate grown”. As I built beds around our personal arboretum, it killed my soul to think of killing these intrepid little interlopers, so I started using them in the garden plan. Roses of Sharon, redbuds, tree peonies and even hostas found their way into beds and planting scheme. The little seeds that could. Being able to distinguish between a seedling and a weed at the formative stages is not always easy, but quite a few of these hardy little self seeders were relocated to better fit within the garden and became my own version of “estate grown”. For me, estate was a state of mind, an inward chuckle on garden tours.
I also can’t stand to see plants in big box or grocery stores without wanting to rescue them all. It’s a primal instinct, I can’t explain it, nor can I deny it. I have a hard time letting anything die, even when I know it’s well past the time it should go. These plants are put in harm’s way, a marketing gambit for an impulse purchase, often to become fodder for the garbage dump.
How did this become so intertwined in my life? Maybe it’s vestigial, harkening back to Eden. Perhaps a recognition or a line of shared memory to a time when surrounded by a garden, life was perfect. Many of the greatest moments of peace I have had as an adult were experienced in my garden. Certainly not in the overly manicured, overwrought professionally landscaped places, but in areas where plants feel some sense of inclusion in the creative process. Allowed their own captaincy in how they will live, and ultimately, die. Living near their parent, their siblings, finding their own place in the world, in my garden. Like Mr. Farmer, I would rather weed out the excess than baby those divas that really don’t belong there. So I have evolved into a live and let live gardener, messy by some folk’s standards.
Some people are compelled to make music, paint, or play soccer; I have lived a life in blissful coexistence with plants. From where this drive comes, I will never from know. But in the larger scheme of things, in saving and nurturing the lives of these denizens of the garden world, I have been saved, over and over again. Even in the dead of winter, sometimes wrapped in despair so dark I cannot feel my way out, suddenly a house plant will lure me to its side. A leaf to be culled, a vine pinched, water applied, and before I know it my spirit is transformed and an hour or two has passed as I move amongst rooms of house plants, communing, supporting, loving. A plant whisperer………….or am I a plant listener?
For my part, I believe we are descended from the same mother, the one who began her life in a garden. From her have I inherited the gene to be looking homeward to Eden, and by osmosis becoming a gardener.