Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Essential Earthman by Henry Mitchell

Carol at May Dreams Garden had a good idea for us garden bloggers this winter, a book club, and this is our first book. I read this several years ago and look forward to reading it again. This is not a "how to" book, but a series of delightfully honest and well-written essays focusing on the joys and agonies of gardening. I read three essays tonight and here are my thoughts:

On the Defiance of Gardens
"...it's about time for another summer storm to smash the garden to pieces, though it may hold off until the phlox, tomatoes, daylilies and zinnias are in full sway." For me, it is always the peonies that take the brunt of storms. I tend to pick a huge bouquet just before they fully open so I can enjoy them.

"Indeed, almost any garden, if you see it at just the right moment, can be confused with paradise." This is one reason I enjoy taking photos of my garden. I also think perspective is important in viewing the garden as paradise. Just crop out the ugly parts. This is why I don't let the pictures of perfect gardens in magazines bother me anymore. I've gardened long enough to know that no garden is perfect.

"Whenever humans garden magnificently, there are magnificent heartbreaks." Almost a hundred years ago, Gene Stratton-Porter was concerned about the loss of native plants and transplanted over 10,000 wildflowers into her woods. She kept meticulous records and every year she added Hookers Orchid to her orchid bed. Her garden was neglected for about 50 years and Hooker's Orchid (Platanthera hookeri) was last seen in Indiana in 1969. That breaks my heart.

And he ends the essay describing how gardeners must be defiant to the "natural way." While I understand the whole concept of a garden is not natural and we are often fighting against nature's way (weather, weeds, design), I disagree that a desert or a swamp cannot be seen as a "garden." Here is my proof.

Earthman vs. the Seasons--Winter
"Resolve not to try delphiniums...again." But I have to! Gene's garden was filled with delphiniums. There are none now. I've tried them several times in my home garden with nice displays the first year and nothing after that. Another winter project-figure out how to grow delphiniums in northern Indiana!

"I must never let anybody know I suffer because..." This hit home. It is so easy to complain about what's not right, what I plan to do, how I meant it to look, rather than simply be grateful for what's right, what worked, and how it looks this moment. At work, Carol and I sometimes forget to enjoy the garden. Visitors' comments help us see the garden with fresh eyes and we've made it a habit to walk through the garden and look at all 35 beds at least once a week, noting what's beautiful as well as what needs to be done.

Earthman vs. the Seasons--Spring
There was a long section on various cultivars of daffodils. I love daffodils but their names have been lost if I ever had them. So many were "pass along" bulbs. The situation is even worse at the site. Next year I may have to try his highly recommended "Passionale." I'm a sucker for fragrant flowers.

Then he turns his attention to perennials, which most nurserymen sell in the spring, although "field-grown clumps, planted in the fall, are best." He's right. And the plants you find in the stores in the spring are forced to bloom before their time. You bring home a spent plant and then have to nurse it back for several years before they "show what they can do." This is because the nursery trade sells more plants if they are in bloom. That's bad enough for annuals, but even worse for perennials. The plants Mitchell mentions in this essay are all rather common, but delightful mainstays in my gardens: phlox, baptisia, hosta, daylilies, peonies, foxgloves, primroses, columbines, coral bells, hollyhocks, and shasta daisies.

1 comment:

Carol said...

Wonderful comments! I need to read more about Hooker's Orchid, that makes me sad, too.

And when you figure out how to grow delphiniums in northern Indiana, let me know, too, so I can do the same in central Indiana.

I'll be adding a link to your post to the "end of the month here are all the posts I found grand finale post" on my blog at the end of the month.