I have an oil painting of a garden, 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, gaping with holes and held together with safety pins.) A sun visor protects my eyes and keeps my 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 know the sun and the heavy humid air. I know the cool touch of a breeze on my hot skin. I am always aware of the weather.I watch the horizon, and I can tell when it is going to send dense clouds charged with lightning. I know the joy and sorrow that rains can bring.
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 true gardener from someone who merely owns the space.