This post is not about writing.
It’s about gardening.
About MY garden in the middle of the city of San Jose and the work we are doing to make it into a California Native Plant garden and native wildlife habitat.
I live in a regular neighborhood filled with lawns and standard shrubs and standard trees in the middle of their standard lawns. The yards are all, to me, very boring. But those yards, for the most part, make the owners of their homes happy and that’s fine. They keep their places clean and picked up and that’s all that matters to me.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion and everyone has one, that’s for sure.
Last week I ordered a bunch of plants from Yerba Buena nursery. Normally I would really want to go pick out all the plants myself but in the essence of time, I trusted the crew at Yerba Buena to deliver beautiful plants and they did. The nominal $30 delivery was money well spent in my book. My husband had finished the dirt moving and creek bed digging. I had finished the first stage of pondering the plants, the background base shrubs, for the first stage of planting. I was excited and ready to begin.
Sunday morning I started moving cans around, playing with the placement until my husband came out with the shovel and said simply, "Dig now, right?"
And so it began. I won’t go into all the plants we planted (saving something for new gardening blog.)
There is one person in the neighborhood that just can’t understand why I am planting what I am planting. Why I am obsessed with native plants. This weekend, as we worked, she proceeded to tell me I should have just bought a house in the mountains if I wanted all that nature, that I should get used to the fact that I live in the city. She laughed and said we would have tons of weeding to do. (Which we will. Planting disturbs the soil which disturbs the weed bank and we do all weeding by hand.) She complained that all the stuff we were doing to the yard was kicking up dust in her house. I was kind. I did not point out the fact that she kept her screenless windows open all the time might have something to do with the dust issue. She will never understand nor appreciate what I am trying to do. I shouldn’t care but she lives close enough that I can’t ignore her. She puffed her cigarette in our faces and then got mad when we asked her to move away.
I’ve been studying California native plants and local native gardens for the last few years. Studying them merely as someone who enjoys plants and wildlife in the yard, as a hobbyist, not as a scientist. My brain can’t wrap itself around the Latin names for the plant (which upsets a great many people in the native plant community) and I don’t hold the information about most of the plants in my brain for long. And I don’t care. (Something else that upsets some people in the native plant community.) I am not a landscape designed or a master gardener. I don’t care to be, I want to learn enough to plant and enjoy my yard. If I had a larger plot of land, something more than my overgraded lot in the middle of big city, I would concentrate on a more pure approach. But I don’t. Yes, I care about the environment and yes I am trying to plant responsibility, we did, after all, remove both water thirsty lawns and the replacement landscapes will be much less thirsty once established. But I am not trying to replicate what my tiny piece of land might have looked like 100 years or more ago. If that makes me a bad conservator of my property, I’m sorry.
When I learn something new I read a lot of books and ask a lot of questions. For native plants I turned to the native plants listserv and asked the experts all sorts of things. I’m sure some of my questions are very basic but for the most part, everyone is very kind. But some people are not. And by this I don’t mean just on the lists I read but people I met, on and offline, everywhere.
Some people seem to delight in waiting for someone (not just me) to ask a question just so they can pounce. Sometimes they want to show off their own knowledge. Sometimes they want to push their own agenda. Sometimes, I think, they are just mean people who are always spoiling for a fight. It is exhausting. Planning and planting a garden of any kind should be a fun experience. There is a certain joy that comes in planting something, watching it grow, seeing the birds, bees, butterflies and bugs that come to feast. This is a certain sadness that comes when you make a wrong choice and the plant dies or you make a poor choice and the environment doesn’t respond to the plant in the way you had hoped. You gnash your teeth and being to revise your plan. You learn from the sidestep. You pluck the plant out of the ground, replace it with something else, nurture it or not (depending on the plant) and hope the next version of your garden story has a happy ending.
But the thing is, you have to do it yourself. Any number of people telling you what did or didn’t work for them is just advice you need to filter through your own system. When someone starts a conversation with me about plants and I share what I am trying, I don’t expect to hear that it is perfect. I don’t expect to hear that I nailed it. I like to hear that it has promise. That I made interesting choices. That they will be interested in seeing how it all turns out.
When someone responds with a list of plants that they like best, (ignoring the fact that it is my yard) with things that they think are wrong with all of my choices, well, it knocks me down a bit. Or a lot as was the case this week.
For the past few years I have held in my mind the goal of being on the Native Plant Garden tour someday. Now I’m not so sure it really matters. I don’t want a bunch of people coming through my yard telling me that I should have planted one thing farther from something else, that another plant wants more sun than I am giving it, that my mulch is all wrong, and basically making me feel bad about what I have done in my yard. I know, no one can make me feel inferior without my permission (Thank you, Eleanor) but still, it hurts because it is a rejection of my work and it is a work in progress. I am still learning. Yes, some people’s advice can save me some money and some pain and some frustration. But there is a way to give advice that some people have yet to learn.
I need to remember it is my yard. I need to take joy in the planning, the planting, watching the garden grow and seeing the wildlife come to visit.
I need to remember that it is my yard, my process, my journey and my garden story to tell, for better or worse.
This is just ramble, a sound-off of sorts.
This post is not about writing.
Or maybe it is.