Remember the talking dog named Dug from the movie Up—the one that flips out when he sees a SQUIRREL? That’s me when I see plants. Plant obsession disorder, particularly a severe case like mine, never takes a vacation. It goes everywhere I go, hand in hand with my ADD.
During a recent road trip, my husband Bill was at the wheel. He seemed content to cruise through Arkansas and listen to Matthew McConaughey chat with the College Gameday hosts while I looked out the window. I sat silent, bewitched by the ever-moving tapestry of native grasses and Asteraceae, tempted by seductive road signs and their untoward promises of botanical attractions. My imagination ran wild. These horticultural thrills could be ours if I could just convince Bill to take the next exit.
The inner gardener screamed, “Pull over! Pull over NOW!”
But I said nothing of this to my dearest love. Such a request would be denied unless it involved an emergency bathroom break or suspected car trouble. When Bill is driving, we aren’t stopping.
Bill does not share my mad obsession with unexplored landscapes. After 31 blissful years, I know this all too well. My man is a no-nonsense traveler, the kind who makes the plan and executes.
“No, we aren’t stopping at the diamond park. No, we don’t have time to go another 200 miles and back to see some trees.” No. No. No.”
Because Bill’s “No” is the voice of well-meaning practicality, I rarely press these matters. We have people to see and places to be. I respect his logic but regret the opportunities lost. I keep my own counsel, shift my gaze, and look with longing toward the unkempt stands of capricious goldenrod that wave to me as we pass them by.
I’m not a kook, just plant-focused, and perhaps a tad bit obsessed. Left to my own devices, my internal GPS inevitably guides me toward uncharted greenery. When traveling on my own, there is little doubt that I will eventually get from point A to point B, albeit with many stops in between.
Bill knows how I roll. There is no fooling him about what I’m up to or where I’m going. Thanks to the rat fink app known as Find My Phone he monitors nearly all of my long-distance plant-related detours. He calls and asks, “Are you lost?
I’m not lost. I’m garden surfing. I get high on zipping in and out of green spaces, pouncing on unplanned opportunities to see plants. What could be better than hanging loose, searching the vast horizon for waves of garden joy to catch? Why not seek out good garden trouble, the kind of horticultural experiences that rely on serendipity instead of Apple Maps?
Garden surfing is for thrill-seekers.
You can do it. Anyone can.
Going it alone may help you cover more ground. In June of this year, after an amazing week at Great Dixter, I returned to London ready to surf. I caught my first wave at 1:43 p.m. For the next 8 hours, I hopped on and off the rail lines to see as many garden spaces as possible. By the time my head hit the pillow, I’d covered more than 10 miles on my feet. I can’t imagine any of my friends still being my friends today had they come along, so don’t be afraid to go solo.
Garden surf for fun not followers. The art of catching waves should build memories, not your social media numbers. There’s nothing wrong with keeping score of the waves you’ve caught by taking pictures and sharing them with your friends but try to live in the moment.
Don’t surf if you can’t relax and let the experience come to you. Pure waves, the kind of experiences you’ll remember until your last breath, roll in when you least expect them.
Don’t count pre-planned excursions as waves caught. Garden surfing should be one part whim and two parts “because I jolly well want to go there, right this very minute.”
Get the timing right, so you arrive at your destination on time. This seems simple, but when you are distracted by ephemeral trilliums, it can be almost impossible. Keep track of your time and be on time, so your loved ones don’t decide to send the sheriff out looking for you, when you are three hours late.
Follow your heart and you’ll surf in all the best places.
Don’t get lost. Keep your phone charged for safety and navigation. I bring a charging cord in my pocket. If my phone is dead, I’m lost.
If tempted to stay too long, take lots of pictures. You can always come back.
When the wave you catch turns out to be a dud, bail quickly and move on.
Surf in garden-rich areas. If garden surfing were a competition, then Pennsylvanians would have a decided advantage. There are more than 200 public gardens in the “Keystone State.” And, considering all the gardens in Buffalo, Garden Ranter Elizabeth Licata could be a champion surfer. I imagine the Netherlands would be fabulous for competitive surfers, as would Portugal, Italy, France, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Surveying plants in the cracks of random sidewalks could also be swell.
I’ve found no better place to surf than the United Kingdom. Half-skip a rock down a country lane and you’ll hit five gardens. I’ve been across the pond three times. I’m already plotting my way back. According to Bill, I may have to swim.
The finest wave I’ve ever caught was in the heart of London’s West End at about 9 p.m. I heard sirens blaring. A police helicopter swayed back and forth above the buildings, apparently seeking someone who did not want to be found. Any adult with good sense would have turned and run for the safety of the rail station, but this gardener didn’t. Wrapped in my naive joie de vivre, I wandered down a thin side street and discovered the Phoenix Garden, a delightful oasis that rose from the ashes of a WW2 bombsite. My photos do not do it justice. Wander over there if you get a chance.
Whenever you go garden surfing, recall these lines by Robert Herrick.
“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
Now, get out and catch a wave!