Wild violets storming the gates of my garden
I spent more time last weekend taking plants out of my garden than putting in. Dandelion plants the size of dinner plates. Wild violets carpeting the area with dramatic indigo blossoms and broad, rounded leaves that choke out the yarrow plants and the ferns. Grass migrating across the stone edging that is supposed to separate the lawn from the flowers. Thousands of tiny little plants I don’t recognize and that I eliminate with Round-up because they’re too small to yank. I plucked out at least a dozen volunteer redbud tree sprouts. All of these small beauties when viewed from the neighborhood sidewalk, unfortunately, form a natural “weed barrier,” preventing my carefully selected bulbs and perennials from flourishing. So plunging the tongs of my garden claw into the earth (world’s best garden tool), I twist, then bend over to separate the green invaders from the clumps of dark earth and useful worms who’ve been so rudely unhoused. Tossing the weeds into my lawn bag, I repeat the process at least a hundred more times.
Scattered throughout the garden space in their plastic pots are my new lavender and white primroses, a columbine plant weighted down by its orange and yellow bells, and a bleeding heart waiting to burst into bloom once it has a home. But so often the putting in becomes secondary to the taking out. When I began this garden the first year we moved into the house, the space beneath the intoxicating viburnum bush and graceful dogwood tree seemed like a blank canvas of rich soil and promises once I cleared the scrub juniper and forest of fig bushes. I was going to shape this space as inspiration struck until at some distant time it rivaled any Cotswold cottage garden of Gertrude Jekyll. But just below the surface was an army of unwanted seedlings ready to lay siege to what was supposed to be my green oasis. And so every spring and fall, with a combination of patient brute force and a carefully controlled distribution of toxins I beat them into submission so that I may transplant a few more of the flowers to fulfill my vision.
Too often it seems like the rest of my life is likewise occupied. I know what my world should look like. I can imagine projects that would bring beauty, joy, and a sense of order to my days. Yet somehow I always seem to be weeding, tending to the unexpected irritations lying just below the surface. Is there some “life barrier” that I should have put down at some earlier age to prevent the unwanted interruptions that spread across my hours so that I expend more energy rooting out one nuisance after another than nurturing new blooms? Even goals as simple as creating 600 words once or twice a week for this blog fall victim to the wild overgrowth of my to-do list. I look around at friends, family, strangers and see so much thriving in their patch of earth. They have time to position a lovely garden bench and contemplate what they’ve sown in their lives while I continue to stab, twist, and pluck the never-ending weeds choking my most carefully thought-out agenda.
After years of chasing across the earth in a ship of blind optimism and absurd adventures in search of the best possible world, Voltaire’s Candide returned home. When friends and family who had been part of these exploits asked what they should do now, he replied, simply, “You must cultivate your garden.” And so I do. This year the Sweet William I planted as ground cover a couple of springs ago has noticeably spread. Soon it will block any possibility of weeds poking through in its vicinity. And the old-fashioned bearded irises I bought at Iris City Gardens (outside Nashville) on impulse and poked into the ground, higglety-pigglety, are about to burst gold and purple fireworks in my garden. So it goes with my life. I will continue plucking the weeds one at a time, believing the back-stiffening labor eventually will bring the blooms – in their due season.