My sister-in-law, Charmaine Yoest, visited recently, and with the lovely moment of her near to my hand, her words of praise gladdened my heart. “What changed…and what did you do…how long has it been since I was here last?”
The garden has grown. Even I noticed it this year; after visualizing her Helen’s Haven for nearly 17 years now, I woke up to notice my baby has grown up. That is what Charmaine saw — a nearly matured garden.
As we walked the beds, she mused, “So this is what you meant by the boxwood connecting…and I never envisioned those trees getting that tall…and you have a Love Shack and a Chicken Coop!” Yes, all the pieces have come together. I like that these things happened over time.
In truth, her last visit wasn’t that long ago, and while I have more grey and deeper laugh lines, the garden has bigger calibers and shadows cast in new places. What changed? Time. ~HelenYoest Click to Tweet!
A garden needs time to reach the full potential of your dreams. I always saw my garden as it is today, but it took this visit for me to really understand that the time had arrived.
I write about time in my book, Gardening With Confidence–50 Ways to add style for personal creativity (2012 GWC Press), here is chapter 49:
Try as I might to speed the garden’s growth, I’ve faced the fact that all I really need is patience. As I look around Helen’s Haven, evaluating what she needs to shine for upcoming garden tours and photo shoots, I realize she just needs time. This is true for most gardens. I don’t need to add a little something here or there. The design is set. Now I need to wait it out.
This is the hardest part.
Nothing I do now will fill the gaps between the Sedum, providing a tapestry ground cover under individual specimen plants in the red bed.
Nothing I do now will make the boxwood fill in. My imagination sees a continuous line of boxwood, serving as the transition between formal and casual— the boundary demarcating tameness and wildness.
Nothing I do now will leap the rose of Sharon into adulthood.
Nothing I do now will mature a tree, providing a canopy for shady rest.
What I can do has been done. Now, all I really need is time.
By many standards, my garden is full, lush, and mature. It is I who see the holes, flaws, and flubs. Helen’s Haven is not a garden for everyone. No doubt when you visit for the first time, “high maintenance” might come to mind. I can honestly say that Helen’s Haven is not a high maintenance garden.
Herein lies the problem. I like to putter in my garden. When I run out of things to do, I start tinkering. My thinking about tinkering is that if I add more, it will serve as a stopgap, a filler until the garden matures.
This tinkering must stop. All that my garden needs now is time.
Don’t be mistaken; there are many areas for improvement. And, of course, there is the regular maintenance—deadheading, dividing, pruning. I also need to edit out my earlier tinkerings. But for the most part, my garden is not difficult to keep up, and this is something I will appreciate more and more each year.
Oftentimes, I wonder how I would have designed Helen’s Haven if the children had not been part of the equation or if I had unlimited funds. I begin to dream of a new garden instead of Helen’s Haven maturing.
Then reality hits, and I realize this is my garden for here and now—and for ten or more years from now. At the end of the day, this is the garden for me. For her to flourish, all she needs is time.
If I had it to do over again, I would embrace time. I would let time fill in the gaps, not planting closer or adding more to force a more mature look. In many ways, I interfered with my garden’s natural processes. It was fun, and editing gardens is something I enjoy doing. But the big investments, like trees, could have been better planned. Fortunately, no major mistakes were made. Ornamental, low-growing trees planted too close together were moved to give appropriate space. But it was work that did not need to be done, if I had only respected time.
On a side note, letting time nurture your garden does not rule out the possibility of modifying your garden. Tastes change. Ability changes. So plant for the future. Get the anchor pieces in place, and you and your garden will be able to handle alterations much more easily.
As I wait for my garden to mature, I’ll rest in the comfort that weeds defy time, as do shrubs that need pruning and grass that needs mowing. There is always something to be done. But for now, I’m done trying to fix what only time can mature.
A watched pot never boils, and adding salt to the water doesn’t make it boil faster either. But many still do it.
I clearly remember one very hot summer day sitting on my back deck in my old neighborhood, staring at the garden. I was on the edge of my seat with my torso stretched forward, leaning against the railing. My arms were folded in such a way, resting along the top of the railing, that they looked like chicken wings.
I had just spent the entire day adding a hedgerow of conifers for privacy on the perimeter of a neighboring property when another neighbor called out, “Whatcha doing, Helen? Watching the grass grow?” He was almost right. I was watching the one-gallon plants I had just put into the ground, trying to visualize what they would look like mature and topping 15 feet. The next day I watched them, then the next, and the next. Each day for the rest of our time there, I checked the height of those shrubs. We didn’t live there long enough for me to see them mature.
There are some plants that you should splurge on. Instead of buying one-gallon plants, buy three- or seven-gallon pots or even ball and burlap, if need be.
When we left that garden for the home we’re in now, I did just that. I jump started the garden by using taller plants, so I didn’t obsess over watching the shrubs grow. If you found me staring, I was not wishing for something I didn’t have any control over—it was just admiration. Today, our garden has a mature hedgerow providing privacy in our back garden and also serving as a backdrop for various other plantings. Especially when it comes to privacy, do yourself a favor, and buy bigger. You won’t regret it.