I planted my first garden by the book. Actually, I consulted several books, obsessing over plant heights, color palettes, bloom times and more over the winter as I designed and redesigned my garden on paper. I wanted to do it “right”: prepare the soil right, choose the plants right, arrange them right, plant them right, and maintain them right. Yes, I wanted to be right.
When we moved here in October 2011, I did not spend the winter obsessing over garden design. Nope. I was busy unpacking. And in the spring, I found I wasn’t at all worried about getting it right. I didn’t look at one book, or magazine, or website. I just walked around the yard in a kind of dreaming state, and listened to my inner voice. The design of my new garden was a puzzle that my subconscious solved, piece by piece, as I wandered around the yard, sometimes carrying the plant I wanted to place.
What made the difference? Oh . . . about twenty years. And a lot of mistakes.
If you would like to shorten the learning curve from gardening as intellectual exercise to gardening as creative endeavor, I suggest you read Fran Sorin’s new edition of Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening. Fran has spent decades helping clients tap into their deepest desires for their gardens, and helping countless more through workshops and presentations.
Most people don’t start out thinking of gardening as a creative act. It’s more like exterior decorating to them. In her book, Fran gives the example of one man who requested a garden of clipped boxwoods, a “tasteful” fountain, and a stone terrace where he would entertain guests. Then, almost as an aside, he said if it were up to him, he’d rather have a treehouse and a baseball field. He was requesting a garden designed to meet his perception of what a garden ought to be like, instead of viewing it as a chance to express his inner, child-like self.
Not all of us want a treehouse. Some just want a little privacy, but can’t see how to get it with their current yard. Fran herself was stumped by a steep slope in her backyard.It wasn’t until she saw this image that she realized what her land needed. As she told me in an email, “The photo from House and Garden magazine of an old Gertrude Jekyll garden was my inspiration. This was after spending a few years of meeting with landscape architects and designers trying to configure how to take this aberrant sloping piece of land and turn it into a magnificent garden. When I saw that photo, it was ‘bam!’…that’s it. I can correct 3 levels of separate gardens in my backyard.” She had to hold onto that vision during months of chaos and confusion. “The construction and tons of dirt being moved was the metaphor for ‘digging deep’. For me, it took a tremendous amount of courage to be able to do this…to trust my instincts enough…to literally have what was there dug up and tons of dirt taken away….and start from scratch.”
To be clear, Digging Deep is not a how-to book. You won’t learn rules for designing your own garden. What you will learn is how to listen to your creative side–the left side of your brain, if you will–to come up with a garden that reflects who you are and what truly pleases you. Fran refers to the beginnings of her own garden throughout the book, so I asked her for some pictures to illustrate the changes that took place. The redesign of her own garden led to a new career designing gardens for others and eventually even as gardening correspondent for several media channels. She has found that the process of “digging deep” to design their own gardens has been many clients’ catalyst for change in other areas of their lives as well.
I’ve learned a lot of what Fran teaches in her book on my own. I had to overcome fear of failure before I could even begin to garden. As a mother of many young children, I was sure the garden would get away from me and turn into a weedy mess. I don’t know what gave me the courage to start, but I did. And you know what? The garden did get away from me, several times. Goldenrod took over the front garden. The Juneberry bed regularly got swamped. And I often had to resort to triage weeding. But even though my garden frequently looked like a failure, year after year, I was learning more about plants and gardening through it all. And it took a long time, but it’s what enabled me to just “know” where a plant should go in my current garden.
Are you still trying to garden “by the book,” or do you find yourself worrying more about what other folks think about your garden than what inspires you? Read Digging Deep and start on your own creative journey!
The Giveaway Details
One commenter chosen at random will receive a copy of Digging Deep. Fran and I would love to hear how gardening has made you aware of your creativity, but any remarks on topic would be welcome, including “count me in” or “I’d love to win”. Make sure you include your email address in the comment form, as that is how you will be notified if you are chosen. The giveaway will run until Sunday, September 25, 2016 at 10:00pm. The giveaway is over and comments are closed. Kimberly Laird was chosen by the random number generator and has been notified.