“A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.” — Gertrude Jekyll
For the first few years in the house, I gardened almost exclusively in containers: big ones and little ones, plastic and ceramic, pots scavenged from the street and from nurseries, and recycled from the house’s “staging” for sale. (Needless to say, the previous residents of the staging pots had long before migrated to the yard waste can, largely due to the watering problem I’ve mentioned.) The motley collection made a somewhat unconventional landscaping scheme in the back yard.
On one side of the house, though, there was a narrow, unused side yard that led to a shed. It had about ten years’ worth of dead leaves stacked up in it, and I guess I was simply too terrified of the prospect of cleaning it out to do anything but scuttle past on the way to tending more pots. (Too many Steven King novels had me paralyzed with the conviction that there was Something In There.) But once you get even a little success with gardening, you start looking to expand — and there wasn’t much more room for containers.
So I put my big-girl gardening gloves on and pulled out all the leaves. We tried planting directly in the dirt that I eventually discovered was under there, but it was almost solid clay, and the plants didn’t do well. So the next spring I called Naturalyards (www.naturalyards.com) and ordered this sweetheart of a cedarwood raised bed planter.
Once it was installed, I found that I had some well-used bricks and a few garden ornaments had that been left behind by the previous owners. I also found several forks, a single dress shoe, and a headless Barbie. (The latter was disposed of with the alacrity that only a dedicated Steven King reader can appreciate.) Now safe from the Barbie, I decided to use the bricks and ornaments to make a little spot for a statue of St. Francis overlooking the new garden bed.
I planted some “Carpet of Snow” sweet alyssum around him. The first year the alyssum seemed, well, unpersuaded about the whole idea.
The next year the alyssum was showing a little more enthusiasm, but it was hardly the lavish, billowing display I’d had in mind. Periodically it would lose most of its flowers and shrivel up into angry little sticks, but then come back weeks later. I’d water it with an irritable “Look, do whatever the heck you want,” because nothing else seemed to work. There were plenty of other plants to fuss over.
During the cool, rainy winters here, I generally empty the annual pots, clean things up a bit, and leave the perennials to overwinter on their own. It’s been a successful strategy for most of the hardier herbs, like the thymes, marjoram, sage, and the Oregano That Ate Detroit. It’s also a successful strategy for me, as I prefer to stay inside during the winter in fleece pajamas, whining bitterly about the damp.
This spring like every spring I finally emerged, blinking owlishly in the sun, to see what happened to everyone over the winter. I had no illusions about the alyssum, given its track record. But I was delighted to discover what this cranky, reluctant, miserly plant had finally done. During all those drab, bleak, cold days, completely without my attention or assistance, it had decided to flourish. It needed only one thing from me: patience. And maybe a little water this summer too.