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The Garden Experience

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 took these shots while walking around the front garden.I know the soil. I know the plants. Close-ups of some summer flowers blooming in my gardenThe Lady in Red hydrangeas offer interest throughout the summer.

I can't say how much I am enjoying my Red Banana plant! The foliage is very photogenic.

Many plants have interesting seed capsules.

I am familiar with its wild inhabitants. This Haploa clymene moth looks like a crusader's shield.

I usually leave red wasps alone, but I recently rescued one from inside my car. This one let me take his photo.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.

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Reader Comments (27)

How true Debs, you are the gardener and immersing yourself in the experience of maintaining your own garden and the plants is different than just visiting or just owning a space. It's not always a glamorous thing and fashion always takes a back seat when maintaining it but that's not important. Comfort takes priority!

And you don't sweat of course, you glow :) Gardener's glow!

July 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMark and Gaz

Like you, I am always away of the weather. I find knowing about it and predicting it fascinating. But Mother Nature always has a few tricks and surprises. I love your macros today, the Banana is so dreamy in feel.The wasp is really a pretty image too, love the colors.

July 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

Very well said! Your last observations about experiencing your garden rather than having an experience in it really rang true for me. Working the garden truly is sweaty, un-pretty, but highly intimate work. That intimacy is the key.

I'm fascinated by that Crusader's shield of a moth!

July 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaurrie

Interesting post Deb, the ladies in your painting would probably have lots of people working in their gardens, we have the pleasure of being far more intimate with our plants, we get to know them properly, their likes and dislikes, I know who the winners are!

July 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPauline Mulligan

Beautiful images of a beautiful garden.

July 27, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterpam brooks

The only thing I have in common with your impressionist ladies when I am in the garden are the wide-brimmed hat and the act of gathering flowers. My dress is chosen not for its romantic look, but for keeping sun and ticks away from my skin -- long pants tucked into socks, shirt tucked into pants, long sleeves. Not as attractive a look, but safer!

Your photos of your red banana plant, especially the one on the top left, have a Georgia O'Keeffe quality. Beautiful!

July 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJean

Great blog, nice job. Enjoyed it so much...Thanx for your comments on mine!!!

July 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCam

Well said! I feel like I know my garden like I know an old friend. It tells me so much when I silently wander through it, noticing what is doing well and what is struggling. It's almost like another child to me.

July 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCasa Mariposa

This resonates mightily. I once aspired to being a gentleman gardener, but I quickly lost that notion amid the sweat, aches, dirt, deer flies, mosquitoes . . . . Being a real country gardener is much better.

July 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLee May

Absolutely beautiful photos and prose---my thoughts exactly. I even know the painting.

July 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCarolyn

Deb I can so relate with your post...the experiences from my garden have taught me so much and the connection we have with nature brings us closer to life. I wear an old T shirt and comfy pants with a big wide brimmed hat to keep the sun off my fair skin. I sweat too and love doing the hard work. I couldn't survive with hiring people to do this work...I need to do this work which isn't really work but an experience in the garden as you so eloquently put it.

July 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDonna@Gardens Eye View

Hi Deb
The romantic image of ladies gardening in long lovely dresses and wide brimmed hats is for movie sets. Judging from the comments, it sounds as if you have many non-couturier gardening friends, me included. My standard outfit is Tilley hat, sunscreen, old (old) black T-shirt, really ratty olive shorts, my knee brace and scuffy duck boots. It's more important that the garden is the better looking of us two, don't you think?…. :)
(Your photos were a pleasure as always.)

July 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAstrid

Lovely post Deb, Yes, I'm sure you're a true gardener and not an owner of the space. Your images are perfect as usual. Christina

July 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

Deb, lovely photos and lovely thoughts, Frances

July 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterIsland Threads

What a nice post. It is true a real gardener knows and experiences their space whereas the lovely ladies with their gardeners merely visit it and miss so much.

I agree your red banana is very photogenic

July 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHelen

Deb, you've given me an epiphany: "I don't have a garden experience so much as I experience my garden". I've never thought about articulating this because I thought that's how we all felt, but now I know the difference. Not everyone CAN experience a garden! I adore your garden & your posts.

July 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Steider

Hi Deb! Your garden looks like a very quiet and relaxing place, I love those big topiary balls and the banana tree! The red wasp looks hyper real, you took some amazing pictures!

July 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlberto

Amazing close-ups of the wasp! That photo should be in a science book! Your comment about "experiencing the garden" rather than just owning a plot and gardening resonated with me. Mine has taught me patience, problem solving, and learning that nature often knows best.

July 30, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbumblelush

Your first set of pictures looks like a dream.

I wear leggings (often with holes), a faded t-shirt and a visor in the garden. I look like a total slob.

I don't think I've seen a moth like that one. It's exquisite.

July 30, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersweetbay

Deb - You've summarised what many of us gardeners feel but didn't have the words to say.

July 30, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterb-a-g

As always we share the same philosophy - and fashion wear it seems! I always say that "a garden should be experienced not just observed".

July 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKaren Chapman

Very true. I think the experience of tending to the garden and knowing your land to be such a worthwhile thing and much different than visiting a garden that someone else tends. (I must say, I would probably enjoy having someone who did some weeding for me though!)
I usually wear whatever I have on to garden plus a hat and old shoes. My husband had to tell me to stop wearing my nice jeans when gardening - I wore holes through the knees of a couple of them!

July 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterIndie

So beautifully said, Deb. We experience our gardens and that is the mark of a true gardener! And you're absolutely right: it is rarely lady like!

July 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCat

Your post warmed my heart. Sometimes, I can't wait to see what's happening in the garden and I rush to the backyard after work in my heels but mostly it's cargo pants, hiking boots and a t-shirt for working in the garden. Those visors with the sweatband built in are great.

July 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGirlSprout

Hi Deb, Someone wrote a comment on one of my posts, "There is more than one way to experience a garden". True enough, but I think the best way to experience a garden is to really take a part in it and not just walk through it under a parasol and in a fancy dress.

July 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

What a beautiful post (and garden). I have really enjoyed your blog since I started subscribing.

I have an unrelated question for you. I often read about or see photos of individual plants or blossoms, or see sweeping shots of an entire garden landscape, but would you consider doing some features on vignettes you like? I find that, as I'm learning my way, the most difficult thing for me is understanding which plants will work well together. What should plan with my hydrangeas? In front of the cherry laurels? Under the japanese maple, etc.

Thanks again for publishing your blog. It is one of my very favorites!

August 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKristen

Deb, I am entranced by your blog ..... the pictures are absolutely gorgeous. I have been looking through your archives, too, regarding Mt. St. Helens and was totally fascinated.
Thanks for sharing all this beauty with the rest of us!

August 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCharlotte Price
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