The Spiritual Gardener: The Garden is in Charge of Us

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Yesterday, I weeded the oval bed and sat in the sun for fifteen minutes with a limoncello (glorious).  I also cut down the dead rhododendron by the entrance to the driveway, which I was sad to lose this winter – it was very old, all gnarled and twisted, and made an interesting focal point. I also cut the ivy back out of the serpentine bed on the north edge of the front lawn and picked up two large bins of fallen branches around the yard.

Today I grubbed out one of the two knockout roses by the black arch and moved the other to a sunnier location where it will be much happier.  Roses do like sun (duh, it is a simple proposition) but why do we (I say we) persist in thinking they might do well in mediocre light where their bright blooms (which of course are never forthcoming in shade) would look so well?  But I suppose if we all learned from our mistakes as we should, we wouldn’t make them anymore and then just think how boring and unvaried life would be for us, in our perfection.

I also finally had the good sense to give up on the two ratty looking and failing lavenders and tore them out, vowing to replace them eventually with four large Russian sages along the driveway in the crescent bed, where they will like the hot blacktop and the rain runoff it occasionally delivers, plus the strong sunshine of that open position. The Russian sage (pictured above) does well for me and the lavender never does for some reason, though I prefer the latter, but there you are.  We know the garden is more in charge of us than we are of it, do we not?  If not, then the sooner we perceive this the better for both garden and gardener, and the gardener will find things proceed a lot more smoothly in the garden.  Much the same principle applies to one’s wife.

I dug up half a dozen large hostas, with their purple green spear points just piercing out of the soil and looking like a Medusa crown of asparagus spears, instead of snakes.  I split them and moved the resulting twelve plants to the north side of the house, with the hope of finally getting something interesting to flourish there. Hostas are said in all the best gardening books to resent very much being moved, but I have never found this to be so.

In fact, I find them perfectly agreeable in every way: their growth habit is little short of stately, their color ranges from a dark blue-green to variegated bright bottle-green and creamy white, their flowers are elegant, very fragrantly scented and either purple or white, and they grow fine in full sun (though their leaves are vulnerable to sunburn, so part-sun is better) as well as shade, which latter virtue is considerable for most of us, who do not have sunny broad acres to plant like tomato famers, but instead have to cope with shady areas in the garden.

Disappointingly, the camellia did finally flower, but so fast in the warm weather last week that I didn’t get to see it, despite a lifetime’s gardening ambition to bring one’s own camellia into bloom.  Isn’t that just like life?  Then, since a cold day in late March is perfect for moving things, I dug up fifteen of the hearty young foxgloves in the crescent bed where they will soon become over-crowded and moved them to the fence bed where, in my imagination anyway, they will run riot in midsummer, after the honesty have calmed down for the  year.  These foxgloves all grew from seeds I threw around carelessly in the crescent bed two years ago and how great it was to be able now to go select fifteen nice, well-grown specimens to move to a new area, leaving a dozen more in situ.  It is like getting plant stock free from a nursery, but even better, because all the plants are plants one already loves.

Pink foxgloves growing with lupines and peonies.

I also dug up a juvenile, but still fairly tall – fifteen feet – hornbeam from a place in the hedgerow where it soon will be too cramped and moved it to an area where it will have more room to grow.  I hope it survives the move, as I had to be fairly brutal with its roots to get it up.  The forsythias all look great, likewise the daffodils and hyacinths and the star magnolia near the arch.  In the pantry I have seven amaryllises, two of which are blooming, six “Casa Blanca” lilies and eight hollyhocks in pots.  Also a big vase of pink and purple hyacinths in the kitchen and in the reading room a big bunch of China-blue hyacinths with screaming yellow forsythia branches.

I can’t get enough of the spectacular white lily, “Casa Blanca”, and plan to stick them in this spring into every available space.

Yellow, we’re told, is supposedly the color of the first primitive flower in antiquity, and certainly yellow is the dominant color of early spring, together of course with bright green, and its sharp accent is seen everywhere in the form of daffodils and forsythias, with here and there tiny bits of fresh pink on a few early flowering trees.

I had a great spring weekend in the garden.  I got bags of mortar and built the four brick columns I have been planning, three to mark the patio expansion and one for the urn by the arch.  At first in my ignorance I was using my bare hands to smooth the mortar between the bricks, not realizing how the lime and sharp sand would lacerate my fingertips, but I soon put on rubber gloves and was able to complete the job.  It was very difficult and I was not very fast, but it turned out great, so I am extremely satisfied.  Now for the dry-stacked rock wall segments between the brick columns, planned for next weekend.

I also moved an offset Cécile Brünner rose and a white rugosa from the front bed to the oval garden, and divided the five chives, putting five new colonists in the crescent bed, along the line of the driveway.  The Carolina wrens by us are fairly crazed with spring and put up a great chatter everywhere, especially in the pyracantha and the wisteria.  Our white star magnolia is in bloom, as are our hyacinths as I say and so are many tulips and one good forsythia that gets enough sun.  I must move the others to sunnier spots, in fairness to them.  And new perennial shoots are appearing everywhere in the garden, all very jolly and promising.


David Jensen writes the popular American blog “The Garden Interior,” which chronicles his garden in southern New Jersey. Please visit at You can follow David Jensen on Twitter at @GardenInterior.