This was a tough one. Even now, as I force myself to sit down and write this thing more than a week after it is due, I am still fidgeting, still looking for a way out. Hoping for some little task of not so great importance to divert my attention.
“I should really clean my desk!”
“Are there any aphids on this pepper plant?”
“You know, the rug could do with a quick vacuuming.”
Grow Write Guild Prompt #2: Describe your fantasy garden.
I am blocked. The brain does not want to think about a dream garden. The brain really doesn’t want to put it into sentences and paragraphs. As time passes, it is getting harder and harder to do. I have noticed that the block is seeping into other writing assignments. I am growing unsure again about the words that I allow to come out of my fingers. So now it’s not just that I haven’t done this assignment that I assigned (you see, I do not write these prompts with my own ease in mind), or the feeling that I am asking others to step outside of their comfort zones and that I must do the same. Now it is like an infection or a poison that must be drawn out.
I could not understand why it was so hard for me to do this so I talked about it in therapy. So now my therapist asks about it, too. “Did you write that thing yet?”
Even now I am avoiding writing about it by writing about how I keep avoiding writing about it.
[And then I picked up a book that was sitting on my desk and procrastinated further by underlining passages.]
The book I picked up was “There is a Season: A Memoir” by Patrick Lane. I picked it up at the thrift store last week and have only just begun to read it. The passage I underlined was something that I read the other night that stuck out. I didn’t have a pen nearby at the time, but had kept it in my head that I needed to go back and revisit it.
In the wee hours, just as the sun had begun to illuminate the sky, we made our way along dusty, winding paths towards our destination, an organic farm 2 miles across the valley in the shadow of Mount Kuchumaa (High Exalted One).
It was amazing to see the landscape bend and shift before me as the rising sun cast colourful illuminations. We walked in formation — practically ran really, in a race against I don’t know what. I am not an early bird gardener-type. I do not greet the dawn with grace. I linger, stumble around, curse the universe, and beg for just one more minute in my comfy cocoon. But then, once I manage to drag my body out of bed, I find it is always worth it. In this case it was worth facing the morning’s cold air, my sleep-deprived crankiness, and the weirdly competitive colourful spandex-cloaked run-walking to see this beautiful coastal chaparral before the harsh and blinding midday sun transforms it into something else entirely.
The following is my response to the first prompt. It isn’t about my first plant. I decided to go in another direction because I have already written about my first plant and didn’t have anything further to say. Instead, I jumped ahead several years to another time in my life when the impulse to grow things appeared unexpectedly. There was actually another time before this, but this is the story that came to mind and I went with it. I’m feeling a little nervous about posting this because I wrote it in one go last night (with a few edits and a break for dinner) so it’s probably full of errors.
Grow Write Guild Prompt #1: Write about your first plant.
In my eighteenth year I moved away from my hometown in order to put some healthy distance between my childhood and the adult life I hoped to make going forward. My new life started out scary, but promising. I enrolled in a local high school so that I could finish out grade 13 and obtain the credits I needed in order to attend university the following fall. I found an apartment, and for the first time in my life got a taste for the true meaning of the word home. I acquired a retail position at a dollar store that was just opening up (I took the job without knowing what a dollar store was!) and soon found myself experiencing another personal first: the insane inner workings and anthropological weirdness that is mall culture.
I learned a lot of new things at this job. I learned how to stock shelves, order items, create schedules, and manage a store. I also learned about people. I have always been a people watcher, a child with a need to understand why the people in my life were, well, so f*cking crazy. But there is a difference between observing the human condition from a distance and confronting the honesty and vulnerability that reveals itself clearly from inside a person’s eyes. I was out on my own now, a burgeoning adult entering the adult world, and in a way, rubbing the sleep from my eyes and looking directly at people for the first time. I did not like what I saw. I had always wrongly assumed — probably out of a need for self-preservation — that the pain and world-weariness I saw in my neighbors did not exist beyond our subdivision’s boundaries, and certainly — no, definitely — not outside of the town. It would be another decade still before I could look strangers directly in the eye without flinching.
But this is not what I meant to tell you. It seems that I never mean to tell you the things that I eventually reveal. My own vulnerability pours out from my fingers; rarely my face.
Throughout my gardening life there have been many plants that I tried to grow with middling success, until I observed them growing in the wild. Sarracenia (pitcher plants), venus fly trap (Dioneae muscipula), episcia, and ginger are just a few that come to mind. Seeing them in their natural habitat helped me understand something about the soil, light, moisture, or the communities they grow in that allowed me to better approximate their needs at home in my own garden and pots.
In June 2011 I travelled to Denver, Colorado to speak at the Denver Botanic Gardens. One of many things I was excited to see in the area were cold hardy cactus growing in the wild. I’ve been growing Opuntia humifusa and other hardy cacti in pots for years and had only recently began to have success with them in the ground. But I still felt that there was something that I was missing.
A pretty typical cactus garden with lots of space between plants. Note that I took this photo on the roof of one of the buildings at Denver Botanic Gardens.
All photos in this post are credited to Avant Gardens.
As a gardener with particular tastes and interests that border on obsession, it’s always a treat to meet someone who shares the same enthusiasm and passions. I was introduced to Katherine Tracy and her nursery Avant Gardens (located in Dartmouth, Massachusetts) through Margaret, who found out about this off-the-beaten-track plant treasure trove by word-of-mouth through some of her gardening friends. “She’s one of us,” Margaret explained, meaning to say through verbal shorthand that she’s a bit plant crazy (the best kind of crazy) and with impeccable taste to boot (because, of course, being somewhat mad, we happen to believe our own tastes in plants are impeccable).
Collectors of unusual and interesting plants since the 1980s, owners Katherine and Chris Tracey sell all manner of colourful foliage and dependable perennials. Like many of the most interesting nurseries, their business got started by way of a personal passion that simply got out of hand. They began doing mail order in 1997, focussing on uncommon annuals, but gradually moved on to include some of the perennials, trees, and shrubs they personally grew as well.