Michael Pollan wrote, "Much of gardening is a return, an effort at recovering remembered landscapes." This is certainly true for me. My love of gardening stems from my memory of the Edenic harmony achieved by my grandmother in California's Central Valley. Grandma's front porch was lined with a hedge of gardenias--blissful on a steamy August evening.
In her back yard, my sisters and I were free to pick and consume as many strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries; apricots, plums, Concord grapes; and walnuts and pecans as we liked. I recall with deep gratitude lying in Grandma's hammock and turning the pages of Felix Salten's Perri or Howard Pyle's Robin Hood with fruit-stained fingers. It was not until I was much older that I realized that gardenias, apricots, and blackberries are counted as luxuries in today's world. They surrounded me as a child, and as such I both treasured them and took them for granted.
Five and a half years ago, we moved to the country, and my aim became (and remains) to recreate Grandma's haven for our family. Our first spring I started with just one four-by-four-foot square plot, a la Square Foot Gardening, plus a little extra room for James's kindergarten-sprouted pumpkin plant. I quickly learned that all the book learning in the world is no substitute for hands-on, dirt-under-the-fingernails experience. My most vivid lesson was realizing that there may be little hammock time for the person who is creating and maintaining the garden--and I'm actually okay with that. Flushed with a little success (a few salads and a mammoth jack-o-lantern), we expanded the following year.
I continue to read gardening books voraciously. Patricia Lanza was very influential early on, as was Mrs. Greenthumbs, a.k.a. the late and very much mourned Cassandra Danz. Michael Weishan's aesthetics awe and inspire me; if I were a millionaire, I'd hire him to come in and do my landscape design. I just finished reading Second Nature, by Michael Pollan. What a gift.
Then there are the catalogs. Someone more witty than I once wrote that White Flower Farm's catalog amounts to gardening porn; I have to agree. I haven't yet been able to afford any of their gorgeous offerings, but I drool and swoon over their full-color coated stock pages like a hormone-crazed teenager. Far more within the realm of my budget (and with peerless customer service) is Bluestone Perennials. They actually guarantee their seedlings for a year. Don't ask how I know, but they're good for it.
For seeds, there is no substitute for Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. I try to order as many of my vegetable seeds as possible from them--they are good folks and support a number of worthy causes. Forget Burpee; these people collect exotic melons, tomatoes, and other specimens from all over the world. Why plant hybrid cantaloupes when you can have Tigger Melons (from Armenia) or the Hero of Lockinge? Look at their website; you'll see what I mean. I also order from Seeds of Change--most of my herbs come from them. They have seed donation programs similar to Baker Creek's and are big permaculture fans.
Speaking of permaculture, that's our focus this year. I own several weighty textbooks on the subject, but the clearest and most succinct book on the subject is In Gaia's Garden, by Toby Hemenway. What is permaculture? I'm not going to bore any of you still reading at this point with a lecture; look it up on Wikipedia. It's very, very cool, though. I met with a permaculture designer last fall. He's working up a plan for us to incorporate a considerable portion of Edible Landscaping's catalog into our yard this spring--very exciting.
You already know about my addiction to English Roses. Antique and English roses tend to bring out the excess in anyone who experiences them first hand. Rosarians are often British and therefore somewhat stoic about life in general. Ask them about their subject, however, and steel yourself. They will wax rhapsodic in an embarrassing manner usually reserved for teenagers gushing over their favorite rock star. Trust me: these roses are nothing like the ones in your prom corsage. Lush, fragrant, sensual--I can't get enough of them.
Will I ever achieve the garden of my dreams? Maybe when my own grandchildren are running around our place. Fortunately, I find the journey as rewarding as my contemplation of the vision--the only reason to keep doing anything, in my opinion.