As I get my garden ready for my Open Day (May 10!), the drive is to show its beauty. I’m not running around plonking down new plants just for appearance. I’m acutely aware that as much as being drawn by the flowers in bloom, it is the design and plan of the garden that must shine. The juxtaposition of unlikely materials such as brick against slate, the unusual solution to a common problem, the provision for outdoor celebrations, applying sustainable gardening practices, being creative and so on. In essence, a garden must teach as much as it must impress. Personally, I want my visitors to leave enriched and inspired in a way that empowers them to approach their own gardens with fresh ideas and a can-do attitude.
With the thought to instruct, it is incumbent then to be honest about what goes on. While the garden gets tidied up and the mess put away, there is no pretending that it is more than what it is. For example, given the longer than usual winter, the emergence of certain plants is slow and it makes no sense to replace it with a new, more mature versions just to create a lush effect. To try and fool a visitor would also be insulting their intelligence. The very quality of the visit is diminished.
On the same vein, the gardener too must be honest with herself. No illusions of grandeur unless of course your garden is in Versailles. Similarly, a vast formal garden should not be declared to be humble or modest. Lets just keep it real. I recall having some neighbors taking offense when I called my home a cottage. Somehow, that implied it was less than good and by extrapolation, they were jostling with the not so affluent. But in truth, my home is indeed of modest proportions and is quite accurately a cottage. It is exactly what suits me and my family. Nothing more nothing less.
A formal garden to this house would be equally pretentious. No matter that copious amounts of time, money and energy go into creating and maintaining its informal style.
The biggest stumbling block for most gardeners is the unrealistic goal for perfection. To them and to everybody caring to listen, I say – allow for imperfection. Its okay. There will always be flaws in everything. You won’t get all the weeds, bugs will find a way to make holes in the leaves of roses, organically grown fruit will have blemishes, the dry shade under the trees will always be a problem area and will never look lush, where the dog likes to hangout will forever look like where the dog likes to hangout. Its all right – it shows that life happens here.
So do your very best to clean, tidy, care for and create beauty in your garden. But at the same time don’t obsess. Think about those gorgeous Persian carpets that all have a mistake deliberately woven in. Because after all, only God can achieve perfection.
I invite you to come to my imperfect but charming garden on May 10. www.gardenconservancy.org/opendays
(c) 2014 Shobha Vanchiswar