Confronting Change in the Garden

Change comes hard in the garden. If you think about it, all of our gardening activities could be viewed as an attempt, futile even though we know it is, to fix nature in a moment, to lock a particular piece of beauty in time and space. It’s both the hope and desperation of gardening: everything is in a constant state of evolution, and the enjoyment of our efforts must either be in the moment, or in memories.

This is particularly true when large features of the garden suddenly shift, as when this past fall and winter we experienced several freak storms which greatly damaged the huge spruce to the north of the house. This area I had developed into a shade garden over the past decade, with no small success:


Then, in an instant it was gone. The large spruce had to be taken down, and suddenly the area was in full sun. Hardly the place for hosta and hellebores. I must admit to be being slightly depressed; the old garden had been so lovely, why… couldn’t have it just stayed the same!

But I grit my teeth, “manned up” as my students at Harvard like to say these days, got out the shovel, and shifted the shade material to other parts of the yard over the period of several weeks. Then, I set to work building a full sun flower garden, something light and airy, with a decent percentage percentage of annuals that would allow me play with combinations of color and form. Here’s the result:

The same view in 2012; the antique rotating ventilator, one of my favorite kinetic garden ornaments, marks the location of the spruce stump

Looking at these two pictures together, a full year apart, it’s remarkable how similar these two gardens are: although consisting of entirely different plants, they share the same sort of casual, relaxed style I aim for in my own personal landscape – so much so in fact that I must have subconsciously channeled one from the other! The new tree, for those interested, is a linden, I species I’ve always wanted to include; if contented, it should convert this garden back to shade (a thankfully much more gradual process) in a decade or so.

In the meantime, a much larger, more painful challenge lurks: the 100′ x 100′ foot ash that shades the entire rear of my house and lower terrace has split in two. Four different tree experts were unanimous: it must come down before it falls down and takes out half the house. I was beyond desolate when I heard the news, as this particular tree defines the whole back yard and covers not one garden, but three, all as large as the former spruce garden, and all designed around the tree. Change, chaotic and uncaring, is about to come again.

As gardeners, we can either bend or break.

And well, I’m not quite that brittle yet.





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