Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

– Posted in: Garden Design

I loved Fran’s post about seasonal rituals. I celebrate many, one of my favorites being my wife’s family’s tradition of an outdoor Thanksgiving.  We-about 50 friends and relatives attend each year–have feasted on turkey and all the fixins’ on warm sunny days, in pouring rain, and with a foot of snow on the ground. Late November can bring just about any kind of weather to New England. Out there under the sky, gathered round the roaring bonfire, surrounded by loved ones, well, it’s pretty special. But more about that some other time. Today I want to write about another seasonal ritual. For about 10 years, in mid September, I’ve been hosting an open garden day for the Garden Conservancy. For me, it’s a chance to see my garden through someone else’s eyes, thus it becomes a kind of Horticultural Day of Reckoning.

With the garden all fluffed and buffed to a fare-thee-well–or at least as close to momentary perfection as I can get it-I have the opportunity to assess what words and what doesn’t. So, my preparations this year included acitivities such as using a come-along to yank out two large-8 feet x 8 feet-Miss Kim Lilacs who had outgrown their welcome, which provided a much needed sense of openness for a formal area flanked by big blue pots (you can see evidence of the craters the lilacs left behind in the photo’s foreground). I staked stuff until I thought I’d go nuts–a pounding rain the week before had flattened large swaths of the garden. And I planted a bunch of new things to fill in problem areas.

As always, I got a headful of ideas about what I might do to improve those spots next year. And that’s where we get to the “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda” part of the post. Wandering through the garden with various groups of the 150 or so folks who came, really gets me thinking about what do about, say, that spot where the petasites-the ones meant to hide the base of my sci-fi fountain-has given up the ghost early for the second season in a row. I coulda, woulda, shoulda fixed that!But all my tweaking to get the garden ready has hyper-energized my idea process for creating structure and planning plant combinations, so my imagination is in high gear. I’m thinking solutions.

I dream up all sorts of possible fixes, that I could do, would do and should do. Maybe pre-emptive staking instead of remedial staking , for example. So, as per usual, I’m out there now, trimming back trees, reinforcing patterns and altering bed lines that on second thought are perhaps too subtle, and I’m preparing new plant pairings. For me, fall is like a second spring, a new awakening in my understanding of and appreciation for the garden. I often just lay down here or there, and as clouds scud past overhead, I admire what’s there and think about what I can do to improve it.

That’s my fall ritual, that’s how I spend the drawing down of the garden season: With a new burst of enthusiasm, and a newfound sense of energy and purpose. And a host of new ideas to implement. All those couldas, wouldas, shouldas–I’ll get ’em next year.

All of which sounds well and good, but if I’m honest with myself, I’ll have to admit that many of those great ideas-especially the plant combo ones, are likely to disappear from my cerebral tissues by the time spring rolls around and I can actually do something about them. I’m not nearly as good at remembering ideas as I am at thinking them up. Each year about this time I get another idea: Hey, what if I got a garden journal and wrote some of my good end-of-season ideas down? What a concept! Maybe it’s time to make room for another seasonal ritual–putting pen to paper. I could. Would. Shoud.

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Steve Silk

Steve Silk

Steve Silk

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