Saturday, July 26, 2014

Editing My Garden

One of the things I like to do, besides reading and writing, playing with my puppy, and baking, is work on my garden. This work is mostly theoretical, especially since I don’t like worms, getting sweaty, or dirt on my hands. The bulk of the gardening is done in my head, with flowers. I’m not big on shrubs and trees, especially since they flower for a maximum of ten minutes and then just hang around being green until they shed their leaves and get even more boring.

That is not to say that I don’t like certain flowering shrubs. Many years ago my husband planted sand cherries, with their tiny pink flowers and reddish purple leaves, under the window of my home office. I wrote that event into my first Wally Morris book, only I had Nate Morris do the planting. Both Nate and my husband were a little sore afterwards.

In my theoretical garden there are blooms upon blooms in gorgeous hues, except for yellow flowers.  (I must have had a traumatic experience back in the day, because I don’t like the color so much. Pale yellow is okay, maybe, if it’s on its way to being white.) Mostly my flowers are purples, pinks, and blues, with white thrown in for fun.

Over the years I have randomly bought one of just about everything in my color palette, either as virtually dead sticks sent by one of the catalog companies, or flowering plants purchased at a nursery. I planted them the same way; one here, one there.  The concept of planting them in organized clumps never occurred to me. My garden was like a sampler, and the flowers were pretty enough for my husband to assemble a photograph book of my garden, with a single flower on each page. He did it as a mother’s day gift, so that I could keep my garden with me year round, even when it is covered in a foot of snow.

My husband and I have become very good at identifying various plants. We sound quite knowledgeable 
when we go to public gardens, a pastime we both enjoy. He’s also good at identifying trees and birds, although for a while even I was getting better at it. We had put up bird feeders and my husband used to call to ask me what was on them. I had to keep the Sibley’s handy.

 Our garden was getting out of control recently and I called a landscape contractor to see if he could tidy it up. I thought of it as editing out the bad stuff, like what often happens with my writing, and leaving clean text, something with which I am familiar. But once the landscaper came to see the actual garden, I could suddenly see it through his eyes. I saw the total mess it had become and the ridiculous randomness of it. Vines wildly snaked through the garden pulling down the flowers struggling to get some sunlight, with those managing to bloom struggling to stay off the ground. My garden needed a thorough rewrite, a slash and burn.

I couldn’t replace the old overgrown shrubbery with little singleton samples of various flowers. No, there had to be a pattern, and while it could be in my favorite colors, it couldn’t be done haphazardly. Luckily, my random pots of random plants were allowed to stay, and to my surprise were arranged much more attractively.

My new garden looks great, if a little skimpy. I’m led to believe it will fill in and grow together, making for great curb appeal. But there aren’t twenty kinds of flowering purple, pink, and blue plants, and that makes me a little sad.

One of the concepts that has been drilled into me is that when editing, it is sometimes necessary to kill your darlings. Most of my darling flowers are gone and what’s left is cleaner and prettier. But it doesn’t necessarily feel like my garden, at least not yet. 


  1. All so true Joani. I'm in the process of pruning my next book this week.

  2. Great post, Joani. It sounds like you're the same kind of gardener I am. As for writing, I'm still in the "planting" stage of my WIP, but know it will need lots of editing soon.

  3. Actually, I love pruning my writing. Doing so does indeed produce a word garden that is prettier and cleaner!

  4. The flowers are beautiful... and I'm sure the new ones will be too! And yes, sometimes we have to re-plant (slash and burn) our writing too. I'm in the middle of that right now.

  5. I love gardening. Because I had to raise my house above flood level. I gave no landscaping hence no flowers. Gardening used to recharge me during writers block. I truly believe that until I get mt oasis back. I will stay in limbo nice article Joan

  6. I am so jealous! These are gorgeous photos, Joani and of some of my favorite flowers. I enjoy gardening but have no opportunity right now. Congratulations!