Botanists, growers, and nurseries like to neatly categorize their plants into neat piles, all in their proper places. Perhaps it makes them easier to find. Perhaps it helps newbies learn about them by comparison and contrast. Customers can be easily directed to, “Annuals here, Perennials there, shrubs in the back, and oh herbs? If we have any, they’ll be outside with the vegetable starts.”
A friend brought a friend to visit our garden for the first time the other day. Their progress down the drive was very slow, and I found them by the ginger lilies, breathing deeply of their sweetness. Nothing is very tidy at the moment. We’re in that transition time with things coming and going all at once.
I love the garden in autumn. The colors are rich, growth is rampant, paths are closed off by rose canes reaching out for the dwindling sun.
There are a few holes where things have died back or died off, and I’m busy filling them with bulbs, violas, and new shrubs.
“It looks like an English garden, with everything growing together,” my new friend very tactfully observed. She was more than kind.
Our garden is a wild place.
I can only insist on so much order. My plants have minds of their own. I love to see them grow and blossom, but with only a minimum of pruning, tying, moving and interfering with their natural inclination toward growth. I’m curious. I want to see what they will do. I want to see where they’ll spread, and where in the garden they thrive. A landscape architect would probably shudder at my laissez-faire style with beds and borders.
And so there is no neat categorization here. Vegetables grow next to perennials and shrubs. Annuals grow up through the roses and form a skirt around the camellias. Autumn ferns punctuate the shrub border, and herbs are mixed in everywhere. As they grow together into their own tight knit families, distinctions are blurred. Is it an herb, or is it a flower? Is it an annual, or is it a shrub? Is it for eating, for arranging, or for feeding the birds?
Zen Buddhists coined this answer. It means, “There is no clear answer, and it doesn’t really matter.” Others use it, too.
Everything growing: Trees, shrubs, herbs, grasses, ferns and flowers; are all beautiful, and they serve many purposes in the garden. Basil can be as easily used in a flower arrangement as chopped into pesto. Ferns hold the ground against erosion, are interesting evergreens, and catch the light so beautifully in the morning. Comfrey improves the soil while feeding the bees, and will heal a wound if needed.
“Mu” Let us garden as if we were conducting an orchestra. Let all of the fragrances and colors blend together in a synergetic whole. Let plants interweave and care for each other.
Let the garden evolve in its own magical way, with loving attention to its needs, and with respect for the plants’ own intelligence and wisdom.
All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013
Please click on any photo to enlarge and see the detail.