Saturday, March 12, 2011

Paying Attention in the Garden

Landscape Guy came over yesterday to walk the garden with me and make plans for this year. It's hard to believe that we began working together three years ago. I think that this is the year when the garden will finally begin to come into its own; the last three have all been about taking things out, getting structures in place, and putting in plants and trees. This is the year for things to begin filling in and growing out. One of the amazing things for me about walking the garden with Landscape Guy is how much he notices. I swear I wouldn't have noticed the tiny beginnings of drancunculus vulgaris or petasites hybridus that he saw as soon as we stepped into the woodland garden, nor the lilium 'Casa Blanca's, poking up like miniature chartreuse horns in the front cottage beds. I think it's a combination of experience (Landscape Guy's been gardening in this little corner of Zone 7b for years and years) and keen attention.

And that's true, in general, I think, of having a relationship with your landbase: experience and attention make a big difference in what you're able to perceive. You can have some relationship with your land (whether your land is a park near your apartment, a strip of weeds growing beside a parking lot, or a large tract of land) by showing up on the 8 Sabbats, but it won't be the intimate relationship you can have if you pay deeper, more frequent attention and give yourself the gift of experience. And those two things take time. They take carving time out of your day to become the Witch of This Place. And, as Annie Dillard told us, "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives." And so it comes down to asking yourself, daily, if you want to spend your life, for example, watching tv or developing a deep and ongoing relationship with the manifest bit of the Mother where you find yourself.

This time of year, for those of us in the myth-crammed MidAtlantic, is such a wonderful time to commit (or recommit) to paying attention to your landbase. Spring and Autumn are our two most liminal times, when things shift and change hourly and daily and reward us so intensely for our attention. I love to pick a small area -- a few inches, a square foot, a specific corner of the garden -- and see what changes I can notice. Sometimes, I take a picture of the same spot every morning and evening and use those pictures in my daily practice or for divination. (If I had an ounce of artistic talent, I'd draw or paint or sculpt it, but, well, I'm about to be 55 and I know my strengths and my weaknesses.)

Last Fall, Landscape Guy and I put in two new magnolias in the SouthEastern corner of the woodland garden. He reminded me that magnolias are originally swamp trees and said that it would be almost impossible for me to overwater them, especially as they were getting established. And I watered all Fall, until it was time to put away the hoses and turn off the outside faucets. (Actually, I managed to water one day past that date, but several hundred dollars of plumbers' bills later, we'll gloss over that little mistake, m'kay?) Over wine yesterday, I asked Landscape Guy whether I should start watering the magnolias again and he said, "No, not yet. I think you'll just know when it's time." And I was reminded of Wendy Johnson's advice:
Every garden is unique, quirky, distinct, and disobedient, just like every gardener, and no one can really tell you how to water your garden. Yet all well-watered gardens have a common song that greets you the moment you walk through the gate. Watering is a form of courtship rooted in affection and experience, and in the desire for the garden and gardener to know each other inside and out. ~ Gardening at the Dragon's Gate: At Work in the Wild and Cultivated World

I'll just have to pay deep attention and keep asking the magnolias if they're thirsty. It will be good experience for me.

You come, too.

Photo by the author; if you copy, please link back.


Vienne said...

Ten years ago, I left My Place to help out a friend (long sad story shortened considerably: when said friend has married a pair of beautiful green eyes attached to a schizophrenic brain, all the help possible amounts to bailing frantically on a rapidly-sinking ship).
I was stuck by the differences in climate and foliage manifest in 100 miles' distance. On returning gratefully to My Place, it was quite plain to me when I had arrived back in the ecosystem I was used to: the forb changed subtly, the wild trees differed, and my allergies calmed down.
I recently tried out a suburb of My City, and the spirits of that place, while not hostile, clearly had no idea what to do with, for, or about me; and again, the microclimate was subtly different.
No, this is My Place, in all its asphalted glory, and I won't be leaving it again.
As I do not own a home, I choose carefully where within My Place I live, and put my energy into that place while I am resident. And My Place responds to me in ways that Other Places do not.
Yours too, to judge from this post.

Terraluna said...

Your photo is truly beautiful. Bordering on lascivious. Just had to say.

Vienne said...

Sorry to leave this as a comment, but I could find no other way to get in touch with you. I thought this post
might be of particular interest to you. (I can see 50-gallon drums of rosemary oil in my own future).

Hecate said...

Vienne, Can't get the link to work; could you please repost? Thanks!

Terraluna, Thank you! Magnolias are such gorgeous flowers.