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How to Plan?

Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday, 19 July 2002

Garden authorities recommend starting your garden with a plan: picking the plants you want, sketching diagrams to see how things go together, and deciding what will go where.

But how do I know what plants I want until I see them? I love to find outstanding plants; I'm not satisfied with the ones raised to look good early at the garden center, but when you get them home need constant fussing and still fade before summer's over. The varieties I want aren't easy to find. I'm picky, too: although it's often possible to rescue a plant that's been mistreated, it's a lot of work: only worth it when it's a real bargain. I want to buy plants that are glowing with health. So when I see one I want, I want to get it right now — it might be gone, or sunburned, the next time I see it.

Another problem is that I don't want to invest in a whole bed of something, or a big, expensive mature plant — before I become well acquainted with it. I like to get one little plant, see how it does in the conditions I can offer, if it does well propagate it and try it in various parts of my yard. Is it a good neighbor? Does it combine well with other plants? Only after really getting to know it, do I feel I can depend on it to fulfill part of a design I plan.

Of course I do plan. I'm always thinking about how the current layout could be improved. But I can't do it all in my head ...or on paper. I have to get out and walk around, visit each spot where I think something needs changing, just stand there and look at it. Visit each plant that wants more room, or different conditions; go stand in front of a prospective spot and imagine it there.... Somehow, in order to plan my garden, I need to be there: I need to see and smell and move... to get my body involved.

When I planned my new iris bed, I stood at the foot of the hill, feeling the energy that pours down it. Suddenly I found myself holding up my arms in a welcoming gesture to draw in the energy and ground it. I felt like the curve of my arms was the curve of the bed I was imagining: I was dancing the garden.

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© Copyright 2002 Catherine Holmes Clark