I own an oil painting, thick with strokes of greens and blues, rose tones, and golds. It was done in the impressionistic style, reminiscent of Monet, and only after gazing at it for a moment does one realize that two women are standing in a meadow of flowers. One is wearing a white dress and the other a long blue one. Both have on wide-brimmed sun hats, and they seem to be gathering flowers. It is the idealized garden experience. What woman gardener hasn't fantasized about walking through fields of blooms, wearing a beautiful gown?
Reality is a bit different. Whenever I am in my garden I am likely to have on baggy pants and a loose cotton or linen shirt. It's not a bad outfit. (When my neighbor Betty works in the garden, she wears old rags, held together with safety pins.) A sun visor protects my eyes and keeps curls off my forehead. I like the kind of sun visor that has a built in sweat band, because I am going to sweat. Sweat is not lady-like, but most of the things I do in the garden aren't lady-like. Digging and pulling, shoveling and cutting and hauling, mixing and squishing and pouring and spraying are activities that get me dirty and damp, unlike the ladies in my painting. I bet they had servants to do those kinds of things.
But I know my garden. I know the soil. I know the plants.
I am familiar with its wild inhabitants.
I know when things go wrong and when things are good. I listen to the orchestra of sounds in my garden, the music of the day and the night. I am always aware of the weather. I know the sun and the heavy humid air, and I know the cool touch of a breeze on my hot skin.
Every day my eyes are on the horizon. I can tell when dense clouds are coming, charged with lightning and echoing with thunder, sending rains that may bring sorrow or joy.
I don't have a garden experience so much as I experience my garden, and there is an elemental difference. I think it may be what separates a gardener from someone who merely owns the space.