Thursday, July 29, 2010

Beware the Gardener: No Critics Allowed!

It's Fertilizer Friday!!  Click on the arrow to view our latest (and last) lily of the season in action!
OT Lily Conca D'or

I've been seriously gardening now for going on 25 years, ever since I quit my full-time job, became an at-home mom and decided to do something with the two acres of hay field we had surrounding the house.  I didn't know a thing about Fine Gardening or even Not So Fine Gardening; I just knew I loved flowers.

As a kid, growing up on the farm, I adored my mother's flower beds, though I did next to nothing to help her maintain the narrow strip of plants growing right along the driveway and the borders around the farmhouse.  Whenever I had a spare moment in the summer after chores on the dairy farm, I was out riding my bike or horsing around somewhere else.

Despite working what would equate to two full-time jobs, Mom always took time out to tend her flowers.   I can remember her deadheading and weeding, staking and pruning her flowers even after a long, hot, grueling day of baling hay was over and the cows were all tucked in for the night.  We would all be exhausted from the day's work, but she would be out there until dark and the mosquitoes drove her inside.

My father's take on flowers was a lot less enthusiastic, 'They're all weeds, you can't feed them to cattle; what good are they to anybody?' 
Volunteer rudbeckia
Dad was a farmer, and if you can't grow it for farming purposes, then you are wasting your time.  I'm so glad Mom didn't listen to his gripes or give up when he invariably swung too wide going out of the driveway with a farm implement, running down many of her flowers as he went.  She used to get so mad when he did that, and he would often say, "You shouldn't plant your stupid weeds so close to the driveway in the first place."

With help like me and encouragers like my father, it's a wonder Mom had any flowers at all.  She had a friend named Bea who had a large flower garden and used to share her plants with Mom when she lived up the road.  But then Bea and her husband, Bert, moved FAR away to Denmark...(that's Denmark, WI, not the country, ha) though as it was a 40 mile drive to visit, I guess it may as well have been a different country.

Living on a farm back in the day, we just didn't get away from it that often;  by the time the morning chores were done and the noon meal eaten and cleaned up, it was 1PM and to drive 40 miles to see their friends took almost another hour (this was a major trip for us) and then we had to be back home by 5 at the latest to eat supper and get back out to the barn to milk cows. This left about two hours to visit their friends and play Sheepshead.

Despite the time crunch, my folks and Bert & Bea used to try to visit several times a year, taking turns going to each other's houses, always on a Sunday which was SO boring for me.  I had to go along because I was too young to stay home alone and they wanted a fifth person to play cards with as 4-handed Sheepshead was not challenging enough.   'Five-handed Jack of Diamonds is partner' was better and that's where I came in handy, Karen can play cards with us old folks--(oh, I hated the game when I was seven years old!)
As soon as we would pull into Bea's driveway, she and Mom would scout out the garden.  Mom would see something pretty and Bea would  run and get a shovel to dig up something for Mom to take home.  Dad would be grousing about how long they were dilly-dallying in the weeds, let's get to playing cards.  The new flower would be stuffed into a grocery bag and set carefully in the shade next to the car until we were ready to leave.   Later on that night, after we were done with chores, Mom would be out planting her new treasure in the driveway border.

As a result of Bea's generosity, Mom's flower garden grew to contain quite a few different plants, many of the descendants of which are growing in my garden today, and when I see the Missouri Primroses, yarrow, creeping phlox and the pinks, just to name a few,  I think of Bea fondly.  She passed away over ten years ago, but her flowers are still thriving here and at my mother's.

Mom didn't know what the botanical names were, she just loved the flowers  Mom's garden was always a riot of color, she loved annuals from seed at the grocery store:  four o'clocks, moss roses, petunias, bachelor buttons, castor beans, daisies, cosmos, marigolds and gladiola bulbs.  Every color, every form, all jumbled together, it was and is beautiful.....Mom still gardens at age 89 though she downsized to just the beds in front of the house.  I start the annuals for her in the spring and she tends them just as carefully as ever.

When we built the house in 1978, Mom said I had to have something around the front to make it look less bleak and while I was at work one day, she came down and planted some of Bea's flowers right out front.  I thought it looked really nice, but didn't have time to tend it much, so over the years, Mom would come down and putz with my front border every so often.

When I quit working after Joel was born, I became seriously depressed.  Depression was always lingering in my life, but a non-functioning thyroid and post-partum depression pushed me right to the edge. The one thing that helped me, besides medication, was my flowers, they were so pretty, just like Mom's.  I became more and more interested in flower gardening and  thought I was doing pretty well, but I was in for a rude awakening.  We had put in a little round bed encircling a tree and I planted several different kinds of petunias in vibrant colors and a little of this and that and thought it was really pretty, that is, until one day a neighbor lady, out for her daily walk, stopped in to visit.

 I proudly showed her my new flower bed and she said, "Oh, well, now, isn't that something.....?" but it wasn't the tone of voice I was hoping for; rather condescending or more of a 'Look, I just stepped in some poop," enthusiasm. 

I was kinda hurt and confused, but she cleared it up for me right away.  "My daughter has a beautiful perennial flower garden in her backyard," she said, "And she sticks to a color palette and pays strict attention to the plant's form, not this mish-mash of annuals and perennials and what all you have going on here.  I mean, don't get me wrong, this is ok.   I guess you're off to a start, anyway."

Ouch.   I thought I'd ARRIVED, not merely begun my journey!  She was the first Color and Plant Snob to cross my garden path. I was crushed at first; her words really stung.  What I thought of as my pretty little garden was diminished in less than five minutes by a garden critic telling me it wasn't 'right'.  Somehow the cheery petunia faces smiling up at me from their homes next to the glowing marigolds looked tacky now and I felt stupid; like I should have known better than to plant something like THIS to offend the eyes of passersby.

As the years have gone by, I have continued on the 'start' I had and have learned a bunch more about gardening, or at least I like to think I have, and yet I remember the day so well.  I guess I should be mature enough to say I thank the lady for her insight and for critiquing my efforts and 'forcing me to grow as a gardener' and all that crap, but you know what?  I still don't appreciate what she did.  Her helpful criticism almost made me want to quit gardening as I was so unsure of myself in those dark days and gardening was the one thing I had that lifted my spirits.
"Yellow is not allowed in my garden."

So, where was I going with this?  OH, yeah..  I have had some visitors to the garden over the years complaining about my color scheme.  Well, not 'complaining' --yeah, ok, I'm probably being over-sensitive--but commenting,  "You have so much yellow and orange and red and EVERYTHING in your garden.  In MY garden, bright colors are not allowed, especially yellows, reds and oranges!! I stick to only pastel pink or purple or white or blue, blah, blah, blah, no hot colors, only this or that or the next thing."

I usually smile and nod, ok, good for you, you grow your favorite colors and plants, that's nice, I'm happy for you.  But why do you need to tell me my color choices are horrible?

There was a t-shirt popular some time ago, 'Friends Don't Let Friends Plant Annuals' and I had so many comments on that too when people would tour.....'Ugh! Look at all these annuals!"  What are you, a glutton for punishment?  Don't you know annuals are a waste of time and energy?  You grow them for three months and they die!" Once again, thank you for your concern for my waste of time and energy, but I love them!

"Ugh, look at all these annuals!!"

So, Mr. or Ms.Garden Critic, wherever you are, please, be forewarned.  After all of these years I have developed many callouses: on my hands, my knees and even the tops of my feet from kneeling in this garden, tending these plants I love.   More importantly, I have an even larger callous on my heart when it comes to criticism, so if you don't like what I plant, I won't break down and cry, I'm not going to stop planting horrid colors together and annuals or get rid of my rocks and 'tacky garden art' to appease you.   This is my garden and I am the boss and I say what goes!! (Well, ok, Mother Nature kicks my behind now and again, but you know what I mean!)

Seriously, what concerns me is this: 25 years ago, I was badly depressed, with little self-esteem and finally found gardening to be something that took me out of myself, out of doors, and much nearer to God and made me a better wife and mother. My first random garden visitor had nothing whatsoever positive to say about my effort, in effect making me feel like a failure.  I almost quit gardening that day.  But I didn't.   What if I had?  What a shame!

We never know how our words may help or harm a person on their journey through gardening or life...whenever I see a back stoop with a geranium in a plastic pot or a grand property overflowing with manicured gardens, I feel the same appreciation for those wonderful gardeners out there who wanted to make their little piece of real estate a bit more like heaven and share it with the rest of us.

To all my fellow gardeners, whatever color or type of plant you grow, I salute you!  And Mom.........Thanks to you, bring on the color!  I love you!
Yes, it's ORANGE! and I love it!

And don't forget--- to see other wonderful gardeners, head over to Fertilizer Friday with Tootsie!


Junebug said...

Karen, What an absolute wonderful post. Not only are your flowers beautiful but so are your words. I've learn a long time ago my garden is mine. I'll admit sometimes I do get carried away with the "What will people think" but then I kick myself in the behind and adjust my attitude. Your Mom sound like she was the true gem in her garden! Hopefully tonight I will work on my Fertilizer Friday post. Thanks again, I truly needed your post today

Sweet Bee Cottage said...

What a heartlifting post. Your garden has to make you happy - that's the joy of cottage gardening! Your garden looks so lovely.

The Dutch Baker's Daughter said...

I wish I had your talent. Sigh. Your garden is the most beautiful I've seen. My mother used to drag me around to all of the gardening places when I was young and I was so bored that it must have killed any gardening instinct that might have been in me...all of my energy has gone into baking. I will live vicariously through your garden.

There are critics for everything...and I thought food snobs were bad. You not only have a talent for gardening, but you write beautifully, as well. I'm so glad I'm able to visit your garden through your blog. :)

Alison said...

Thanks for sharing with your readers the story of what must have been one of the most humiliating moments for you as a gardener. It's obvious to me that you are both a marvelous gardener and an excellent writer. I'm so sorry this happened to you, and can't think what must have been going through the head of your obnoxiously critical neighbor. No one starts any endeavor at the pinnacle of greatness. How could she not have realized that you needed nurturing to succeed? It must have taken great courage to continue on. Your experience is one of the reasons why I prefer the company of plants over people.

Your current garden looks just lovely. An exuberant celebration of your own creativity! Kudos to you.

Oh, and BTW -- BAD DAD, running over your mom's flowers.

Rosey said...

So glad to have found your blog Via Tootsie.
I like the way you write and the way you think!

Your flowers are all the rock garden.

siteseer said...

What a wonderful story... your Mom was truly blessed to have Bea in her life and you are blessed to have you Mom. Flowers are beautiful in any state... even a few weeds are beauty to someone. Glad you stuck with it... sometimes peoples words are so harsh. You have a beautiful soul.

Suzy said...

Gardening should definitely be about self expression unless you are a professional gardener and even then your personality should come through. I love color in my garden..I have a major mix match. I call it the suburban cottage garden. Nature doesn't give us all pastels..thats for sure :-) Annuals are the stuff my gardening roots are built on and I see no reason to not include them. Zinnias, marigolds, petunias, cosmos are just a few I would be very sad to be without in the summer months. Your garden is lovely!

Gatsbys Gardens said...

Great post Karen! The only criticism I have is that your garden looks TOO GOOD! Now we all have to measure up.

One of my favorite colors is orange and pink and yellow and purple and white. I also like lots of color and always use annuals to fill in my perennial borders.

However, my annuals did take a beating with the hot weather we have had. They just don't have a root system, especially in containers, that perennials have.


Karen said...

Junebug, oh, yes, it is so easy to get wrapped up in 'what will the neighbors think', I know all too well, but I'm better now. My mom is still helping me in the garden which is such a blessing. Thank you for the kind words!

Sweetbea Cottage, thank you!

Cathy, your cooking and baking skills far outshine anything I can do in the garden! I hope you stop in the next time you're back in WI.

Alison, Thank you! I often feel the same way, plants are definitely more pleasant than some people! My dad did learn to appreciate flowers after he retired, thanks to Mom!

Hi Rosey, great to meet you!

Siteseer, yes, I am blessed to have my mom yet, she is a such a big help to us.

Thank you, Suzy, you're right, what would we do without our annuals? The garden would be bleak after July without them.

Thank you, Eileen, I can see that you and I think alike with our favorite colors--all of them! We have not had the extreme heat you've had, just rain, rain, rain. We are growing an extremely healthy mosquito crop, too.

Thank you all for the encouragement!! Karen

Crafty Gardener said...

I love your colour scheme, very similar to mine. Your gardens are gorgeous.

Anonymous said...

I loved the post Karen. I too have lots of plants in my garden that I like, but others would say do not belong. I have to remind myself that it is my garden and I like it - and that is that.

FlowerLady said...

What a wonderful post! People can be so cruel at times. Gardening and being in gardens is wonderful therapy. We don't all garden the same, we are unique creations each and every one of us with our own tastes. I know my gardens leave much to be desired by the snobs, but my gardens give me much pleasure and I feel at peace in them, humble though they are.

I realize that I saw your quarry pictures sometime ago, but I don't remember where and I was very impressed at the time.

The love of your land that you and your DH have shows in what you have done. Your hard work and love of growing things is obvious. I'm glad you did not let that woman's hurtful words discourage you. God took something negative and turned it positive.

Your stained glass creations are beautiful!

I came here from Conrad's Art Glass blog.


Karen said...

Thank you, Anonymous and Crafty Gardener!

FlowerLady, thank you, and very nice to meet you. Gardening is so very uplifting to so many of us, isn't it? Just the feel and smell of soil, rain, flowers--indescribable to those who have never embraced it. And, thinking back, most of the harshest critics of gardens I have encountered over the years are those who garden very little themselves. The rest of us understand what it means to love what we grow and grow what we love!


Ginny said...

I am so sorry that you were the victim of a garden snob right in the beginning. I hate to think what she might have said about my early attempts! It makes me wonder if she was a gardener herself or someone who just critiqued gardens. One of the joys for me of reading garden blogs is that I rarely see an unkind or snobby comment - just encouraging and gracious words. And I think that's because most of us who love gardening for reasons other than just having something pretty to look at understand that each garden is a personal expression of it's owner. We aren't exterior decorators, instead we want to be on more intimate terms with God's creation.

Karen said...

Hello Ginny, Now that you mention it, you're right, she didn't have a garden at her house! Why didn't I think of this before?? She was just a critic! Lucky (for her) that she no longer lives in the area or I'd have to go over and tell her to come back and visit me again. She'd probably give me some more helpful hints!

Thank you, Ginny.