A good gardening day! 

Went out to Niche Gardens and picked up a dozen plants, all natives. A couple are old friends–two varieties of Texas sage, a giant blue aster–most I’ve never planted before, some I’ve never heard of–Cabbage-Leaf Coneflower, for example, gets six feet tall! Some are just awesome names–who can resist Purple-Headed Sneezeweed, or wild quinine? And the butterfly weed is mostly a hope–I tried to grow some from seed once and failed miserably, so here’s hoping.

I’ve pretty much filled in the bed at this point–there’s one spot set aside for black-eyed susans in the near future, and I could probably make room for some veronica, but the bed is set up. I may interplant some annuals for the gaps–it’s a rather large bed, and quite loosely packed at the moment, although once everything grows in, I suspect it’ll be what the gardening books call a "tight matrix."* It’ll probably be a year or two for most of these, whereas things like the pineapple sage will be four feet tall by fall. (And then may or may not die–pineapple sage is just at the edge of our area’s cold tolerance, and most local gardeners can apparently keep them alive for several years, and then we get snow and they bite it. I am assured that pineapple sage is not invasive in this part of the country, so this Mexican native finally got popped in the ground here–there’s nothing like it for hummingbirds.) 

My gardening experience over the years has been peculiar. I settle, plant, get hopeful–and then move. I have never experienced a second year in a garden as an adult. It’s not intentional, I never plan on it–it just happens. Repeatedly. (After my divorce I gave up for almost two years–there was just no point.)

As a result my hind brain secretly thinks that everything is annuals. And it doesn’t believe in bulbs at all. Yes, all these things come back, I research them all semi-obsessively, I believe that they return–I’ve just never been able to SEE it. I have vague childhood memories of a fondness for grape hyacinth and tulips, of a finicky orange rosebush, of scotch and Irish moss and azaleas, but that was over half my life ago. I had never gotten a second year in a garden.

This year, I have. I planted exactly four things last autumn, just after moving in with Kevin–anise hyssop, deciduous holly, snakeroot, and witch hazel. I did not, in my heart of hearts, believe that any of them would survive.

The anise hyssop is now thigh-high; the snakeroot, slow to break dormancy, is only a foot or so. The witch hazel is a tall, spindly shrub by nature, but it flowered like a trooper in early spring, and it continues to add new leaves. And the deciduous holly, which I fretted over and worried was dead, has added three inches of growth in every direction and now has the tiniest nubbly flowerbuds at the base of every stem.

They make me feel like a real gardener.

Everybody starts gardening out of hope, I think, and with perennials, hope is rewarded by the return of a plant the next year, and you are left trying to explain to non-gardeners that yes, you planted it and it came back, and no, it’s not that you didn’t think it would, but–well–it came back! Do they not understand that this is a miracle–maybe a predictable one, maybe one you were expecting, but still kind of incredible? There was a plant, and then there was dead stems and dirt, and now, look! Plant! Is this not amazing?

I knew the miracle existed. I counted on it. I held faith in plants and sun and dirt the way I hold faith in no gods and few enough people. But it was still hard being a one-year gardener over and over again. The anise hyssop and the snakeroot restored my faith the way few enough things could, the liatris, which came up from bulbs thrown late into the ground as an afterthought, and which is going gangbusters, makes me almost believe in bulbs again. (Not quite. Bulbs are a harder sell. Plants at least look like plants. Bulbs require a great deal of faith.) 

I have single specimens of nearly twenty species in the bed, and multiples of a handful more–mostly plants I know well to be reliable, like May Night Salvia, gaillardia, and Shasta daisies. Most of them are growing just fine at the moment. Depending on which school of gardening you apply to, I have either the design sense of a color-blind magpie, or a fine interest in biodiversity. (They’re mostly arranged by height, so that the tall stuff is in the middle and it shades out to the edges–at least in theory. Since I’m new to most of these, I’m going by the descriptions, and that’s kind of a crapshoot.) Half of it’s just that I have no damn idea what will grow here–I didn’t know that the hyssop would come back and I had given up on the snakeroot completely. It makes no sense to do a mass planting of something I don’t KNOW will grow.

The whole thing feels like a wild experiment sometimes, like it’s patently impossible to put stuff into dirt–dirt!–and expect anything to happen, as if the whole notion of gardening is patently insane, and yet it’s working, stuff I planted in March is flowering, there are strawberries all over the strawberry plants, the bees are on the salvia and the columbine has new flower buds on it…

If even half of these wild experiments come up again, I’ll consider it a staggering success. And plant more.

ETA: Oh! And while I was kneeling in the bed, planting the native blue vervain, I startled a teeny tiny Southern Cricket Frog! He was hanging out in my flower bed, so obviously I’m doing something right…

*According to these magazines on green gardening I keep impulse buying at the register, this is a good thing. Less weeds, or something. 

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