As winter moves in, gardening inspiration lives indoors on the walls of our sunlit plant room from November to March, pithy little sayings that are written on wood, steel and ceramic and intended to keep the horticultural flame flickering until April reappears.
And even the lame ones offer some winter charm until we get to go outside again: “Gardening is just another day at the plant” and “Of all the paths you take in life make sure a few of them are dirt.”
These gentle reminders are nailed to our plant room wall just below some enormous photos of yellow rudbeckia, red hibiscus and white mums, more reasons to believe spring lurks in the shadows.
Just below all that is our hot tub, the most necessary item in the room to get us through until the Easter Bunny arrives. It’s all part of the process.
The 1860s English poet-laureate Alfred Austin lives on a plaque in our plant room, too, just above the hot tub. The poor guy had to follow Tennyson, so his poet-laureate appointment came with a little controversy over his abilities, but he survived; no greater glory than sharing space with a Hoosier hot tub.
One of Austin’s most famous gardening edicts goes “The glory of gardening; hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul.”
That reads a shovel-full over the top to me – especially after spending a soulless August afternoon pulling weeds – but it can ring true that first warm sunny day in April.
Austin’s words on the plaque on our plant room wall go “Show me your garden and I shall tell you what you are.” It’s an abbreviated version of the original version of that line, which read “Show me your garden, provided it be your own, and I shall tell you what you are like.”
Garden showmanship raises its head here – if not a little 50-cent garden philosophy. Austin’s longer rendition opens the gate to more questions. The full phrase “provided it be your own” asks the question of who actually tilled, sowed and weeded the garden.
We have all been to estates, or even private gardens, in which the owners are more than happy to take credit for inspiration and work done by others, who just happen to be off that Friday.
The rest of that line – “show me your garden and I shall tell you what you are” – digs a little deeper into the dirt. It’s not “who” you are. It’s “what” you are.
As the virtually unknown philosopher Ajeeth Pro Francis wrote on the subject – and I have no idea if Francis ever planted a single marigold – there is a big difference between the two. But be warned, Francis is not a guy who fears dangling a participle to make his point:
“What someone is – is essentially the person someone projects themselves as. Their job, their friend circles, their cars, their salaries. These are “external” qualities that tend to be superficial.
Who someone is – is essentially the kind of person someone actually is. Kind, cruel insecure are all many things that someone can be. Most authentic people live lives in which they don’t make an effort at “sculpting” what they are. The “who” eventually oozes out into every aspect of their lives, their surface level features melt away and you see them only for who they are.”
We get off the Sigmund Freud Horticulture Train here. What Austin is saying – right there above our hot tub – is that some people, even unknown to themselves, are more about copying other gardens or just following trends. Other gardeners just don’t care what Fine Gardening magazine, Horticulture magazine or Garden Rant have to say. If it feels good for their garden, they do it. It’s them.
My original framed inspiration on our plant room wall covers even more bases: “There are only two lasting bequests we can give our children; one is roots, the other wings.”
It’s a quote variously attributed to Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Hodding Carter – a pretty good range of word gardeners.
It’s long been my favorite because of the “roots” part. Both of our children have them, even as one lives about 600 miles away on the edge of metro Washington and the other 800 miles on the shores of Lake Superior. My wife and I grew up in Illinois and now live in Indiana – pretty much the same states if someone could move Chicago.
Along with our wall full of quotes, what makes our plant room even more special is its located between the kitchen and the small room where we hang out coats to go outside. We have to pass through it about 20 times a day.
The quotes and plant photos just hang there, somewhere between noticeable and nonintrusive. They help when needed and are happily ignored if we get in too big a hurry.
The last time through I noticed our Thanksgiving cactus is getting ready to bloom. I didn’t know they could read.