How does my garden grow? With a little help from my friends.

Two decades ago, just before my husband’s favorite cousins ​​Mal and Marge left the Westport, Connecticut home where Mal had raised stat...


Two decades ago, just before my husband’s favorite cousins ​​Mal and Marge left the Westport, Connecticut home where Mal had raised state-of-the-art rhododendrons, we were invited. to dig up, the size and quantity that suited us. .

At the time, I had barely finished my freshman season as a weekend gardener and so I was, let me say, pretty green. I was also afraid of appearing greedy. So rather than picking out the big, sturdy bushes that Mal generously and judiciously sprouted to me, I casually went with half a dozen tender specimens, all about the same age as our toddlers. They will all mature together, I thought.

Transplanted to a slice of land just off the driveway, the rhododendrons have only bloomed intermittently despite my diligent ministry (for the record, my now adult offspring is doing very well). But that doesn’t bother me. Well, that doesn’t bother me too much. Every time I walk past them I think of the late Mal and smile. Every serving of the Miracid soil nutrient I make is a little tribute to him.

Part of the attraction when I first started gardening was the possibility of loneliness; it was a senseless escape from husband, children and work. Wheelbarrow equipped with a trowel, a delimber, a rake and a tiller, I made my way to a path perpendicular to the stone wall to tear off the rocks and roots that hampered my ambitious but vague beautification plans .

Now, about 20 years old, there is nothing lonely about this chase at all. I am now surrounded by plants that have belonged to important people in my life, and I deeply feel their presence. This is not my garden; this is my community garden.

Mal was the first of many benefactors. I have done very well with the boxwood he gave me; it kind of compensates for the rhododendrons. The flowering nettle that lines the stone wall at the back of the house comes from the garden of my best friend, Arlene; a particularly graceful fern from my friend Susan’s garden. I have irises around the big rock in front of our house only because my friend Nancy dug them up and divided them in my name. It’s also because of Nancy that three weeks ago I have a canna lily growing big, shapely leaves in a bed right next to our patio near the garage.

Just as cooks share their recipes, so gardeners share their plants. My sister-in-law built her garden on the generosity of a friend who was moving from Connecticut to North Carolina and invited her to come and get fodder. The loot included a mess of Lady’s Mantle, Barnwort, Echinacea, and Phlox.

An old neighbor who saw me admiring his trumpet and Asiatic lilies one morning while I was walking our dog, surprised me a few days later with several flowering clumps. Detailed planting instructions were followed by the story of how she met her recently deceased husband. (She was his much younger secretary and although they were married to other people, they fell madly in love – her first gift to her was flowers; guess what kind – and ran off together. My neighbor , who has become a good friend, half-died a dozen years ago, but the lilies she gave me come back faithfully every summer.

Often I have received advice with additions – on grouping plants in odd numbers to enhance visual interest, the importance of soaking the root ball well before planting, the folly of raking a bed while cleaning of spring, in the process of depriving vulnerable plants of the necessary heat, and on the desirability of arranging a bed to have flowers with different flowering periods, thus ensuring color throughout the season. Then there was this: plant hostas and daylilies if necessary, but understand that you don’t do anything except provide a Bambi buffet. have I listened? Alas, I didn’t.

Still, I have a much better garden for all their contributions, and I am a much better gardener for all the great tips – and I have some proof of it. A friend who came over for lunch last weekend wanted to know when I would be dividing the daisies and bleeding hearts next time, because she would love some. A first.

I try very hard not to think about how much I spend each summer on what I call exterior decorating. When I was new to the game, I was innocently thrilled by the offer of free stuff, from someone else’s backyard. Take this, Home Depot. It never occurred to me to wonder if I liked the harrow or not. In the ground he went. And it didn’t occur to me to worry about the results. If this harrow or the hydrangea has not set because I have watered too much or not enough; whether I planted them in a sunny location when shade was required or vice versa, it didn’t matter – I was a beginner.

But now if I do a hash of a friend’s dianthus or butterfly bush, I can no longer plead ignorance or inferior soil. I can no longer blame it on the fickle ways of nature. I not only feel that I have failed the Eternal, but that I have also failed my friend, and I am, therefore, unworthy of further contributions.

On the other hand, when these homemade plants thrive, it’s especially rewarding.

I like to think of these offshoots as offshoots of the offshoots of countless other gardens and countless other kind-hearted gardeners. Especially in these times, it’s a beautiful kind of immortality.

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