By Mel Bellar
I know I explore this topic a lot, but the name of my column is Garden Therapy, after all. This Spring I am experiencing the lessons a little harder and deeper than usual, or at least that is the way it feels right now. Perhaps every year is like this, but my built-in forgetter keeps me coming back for more. Nature is fickle, fleeting, always changing, and unpredictable; it is hard not to take it personally at times. Therefore, Mother Nature, the consummate teacher, brings me back to basic concepts that keep me relatively sane, and make it possible for me to enjoy my life as a landscape designer and passionate gardener.
Acceptance is the most important and overarching principle. While I do my best to mitigate the challenges that nature doles out, I can’t control the weather, most pest and disease and the random mysteries (and of course not people!) After I finally accepted the random blow that 5 large junipers in my garden were actually dead, I removed them and immediately felt better. Then I began to struggle with the void and to embrace the change. This change prompted another important concept: life is often about “making the proverbial lemonade.” Yes, I like it now that the view is more open, and it offered me the opportunity to buy some new plants and make a cool new rock garden. Then I was able to experience refreshing gratitude! My business offers me the privilege of being able to justify and afford some new plants. While I am still not totally resolved to these big changes, they are new, and I know that time will knit it altogether and that it will be better than ever (Patience).
Maybe the most torturous lesson that the garden teaches us is patience. Without patience there is a price to pay, emotionally and financially. When I design a garden, or we as home gardeners embark on a new project, we must pick the plants according to the area we want to fill. We can either buy larger plants (at a serious cost) and fill the space immediately, or we can plant smaller plants and wait for them to grow. Larger plants are exponentially more expensive than smaller plants and let’s face it, it is prohibitive to purchase and install full grown trees (like my lost red cedars – think sad face here.) You just have to wait for trees to grow, even if you are (uh umh – 68 years old or more.) Ultimately, unless you are super patient and select your plants with a 10- or 15-year time period in mind, you will eventually have overcrowding and have to remove stuff (thank you nature). I like to plant smaller plants with a 3- to 5- year “looking great” goal and then plan on thinning them out and using them elsewhere when it gets too lush (code for too crowded.) I have gotten a lot better at accepting that things take time, but I still get super impatient just waiting for the grass to grow in after trashing it during the construction process. And that only takes a few weeks. I want it to be beautiful right now!
Nature moves fast when you aren’t looking, and of course it is always changing. Some things grow super-fast and get out of control (especially the weeds these days), and other things die inexplicably at times. We have droughts and floods, bears and woodchucks (sheesh I hate the woodchucks and cannot accept the damage they do), Japanese beetles (I gave up and just accept them—long story), a variety of other destructive critters and, of course, the deer. If you want to have a garden, you have to practice a lot of acceptance and patience and hopefully feel grateful that you have a garden at your beautiful home in the Catskills. I am constantly trying to remember these things, accept the constant change and enjoy the journey one step at a time. It is the only way other than to take a picture one day when it is perfect and forgo the real deal. Stop this garden now, I want to get off!
Mel Bellar is the owner of Zone4
Landscapes and a passionate Andes