Friday, June 4, 2010

Dream Big, Plan Well

There is no doubt that my mom and I have a lot in common; though, for all those similarities we also are quite different.  Tall/short.  Blond/brown.  Serious/silly.

One trait that she has that I quite admire (ok --sometimes envy) is her ability to focus and immerse herself in her projects.  Although I have to remind myself that she’s retired and a couple decades my senior, I’m in awe of all the creative things she’s learned to do largely on her own -- spinning, weaving, knitting, soap-making …. you know, amazing stuff like this:
Although I don't want to label myself as one who flounders, it is true that I don't often find it easy to get into that state of flow and passionate immersion when it comes to my creative endeavors.  I work best under pressure.  Deadlines, expectations, people counting on me all are strong motivators.  Admittedly, I wouldn’t mind having (and am presently trying to gently cultivate) a little more capacity and consistency in the self-motivation department; doing things I love just for myself.  (As a side note, reading Daniel Pink's book Drive gave me some insights into why I thrive in some workplace situations and not others.  Interesting stuff.)
Certainly, there are times when I am able to throw myself headlong into projects and find that intensely enjoyable focus that often means I have to remind myself to eat and sleep.  My latest project that fits that bill is working on a true garden plan for our front yard; the sort that’s drawn on graph paper with lots of circles and arrows and labels and such.
This project started out as an item on our "to do" list and I was dragging my heals at first, even resenting it a bit.  In my ignorant gardening bliss of last year, I planted mostly deciduous and herbaceous plants (i.e. those that drop their leaves or go dormant in the winter) and found that our front yard turned to a barren, brown patch of dirt in the gardening off season.  It did not make our dark, rainy Pacific-Northwest winter any more bearable.  
Wait. I should frame that in the positive.
The winter-weather doldrums would be greatly improved with a garden of evergreen plants, including, perhaps some winter bloomers.  
Hence the need for a plan!
I do feel like I've perhaps taken it to an extreme in the last day or so.  My drawing keeps growing and growing in its dreaminess and will perhaps reach Secret Garden proportions if I’m not careful.  But really, nothing too drastic or crazy or expensive going on here yet.  But also, no longer just a weekend’s worth of moving things this way and that, either!  (I think I get this “dream big” trait from my mom, too.)  My biggest desire is to get the "bones" in place in the fall. 
Needless to say, my begrudging attitude has turned to one of intense curiosity about plants.  There is something empowering, I’ve discovered, about being an informed gardener.  While I think it is perfectly fine to garden by the seat of your pants (being mindful of at least the basics like a plant's preferred light condition), it does feel good to know your plants, their preferences, their quirks, their vulnerabilities.  I even feel better knowing their names.  It’s more personal that way.  And I suppose that's what I really want in a garden.
Indeed, that seems to be the answer when I muse as to why I'm bothering with all this when our yard doesn't look half-bad right now, all green and wet and springy.   But it doesn't look personal yet.  It's like an unfinished thought or a half-complete painting.
When I paint, I love laying down the brushstrokes of color that are the underpainting -- messy and free-flowing, yet telling of what the piece might eventually become.  Truthfully, the work of the finer details often eludes me because it undoubtedly takes that full-on immersion and persistence to really get up-close and work them out.  
So here I am with my front yard plan, layered with its own chaotic underpainting of eraser marks and smudged graphite.  But slowly now, as I persist on, it's revealing the finer details of this hopeful landscape.  Like the fragrances of Daphne, Sweetbox, and Mexican Mock Orange.  And then there’s this particular palette of pinks, whites, gray-blues, and blacks to which I seem to gravitate.  The other night I was dreaming (truly) of a delicious interweaving of lacy pink poppies (the big oriental kind), black mondo grass, Lenten Roses (my winter bloomers), blue sedge, variegated oat grass, rosebud azaleas, and delicate Black Beauty.  I see the world in plants these days.
The last few of these pictures are part of my nursery note-taking process.  Photo-documentation is a wonderful remedy for impulsive plant-buying syndrome; an unexpected fever that’s known to strike gardeners of all abilities when encountering charming, cute, or downright gorgeous plants in need of a forever home.

If you have any favorite plants to recommend or gardening tips and stories to pass along, they would be most welcome here!