Slow Down and Enjoy Gardening in the Fourth Dimension: Time

by Tom Spencer / Soul of the Garden

Clouds of pink redbuds, fields of bluebonnets, the fragrance of wisteria and plum- March, the month of eternal bliss for the gardeners of Central Texas has begun. This is the time that sustains us- the intoxicating newness and one thousand shades of green will linger in our memories long after the first hundred degree day. March is the brilliant supernova to August's life-sucking black hole- an explosion of movement and life balanced between the stillness of winter and summer.

We might be tempted to think of March as the starting point for our trek through the garden year, but the reality is much more subtle. Gardening is a cyclical endeavor- an art form that works in four dimensions; it is an always changing, living, growing, and yes- dying, expression of never starting, never ending time. Anyone who has contemplated the appeal of gardening has eventually come to the matter of time, for one of the primal lures of gardening is that it pulls us out of the superficial time of sweeping second hands and into deep time- the steady pulsing of the seasons, the measured breath of life.

All good garden decisions are born of time. We spend too much time reacting to the frenetic rhythms of our everyday lives- jumping to alarm clocks and deadlines. It would be a shame if all of our garden time was spent the same way- rushing from one chore or crisis to the next. Instead, let's spend a few of these precious springtime moments considering the long slow dance we and our gardens are making through time. The result can be as sustaining as the season's first mockingbird song.

I designed my garden by spending time in it, standing like a sundial post, letting the space revolve around me- taking it all in. The aboriginal peoples of Australia believe that the earth and its features were sung into existence during a primordial "dream time." I could believe this to be true, for I dreamed my garden into existence during those long standing meditations in my backyard. Garden design by REM, the deep dreaming state that only comes after sinking through time into deep restfulness (gardening at night, indeed!) I feel as if the time spent observing my backyard space actually led to a collaboration between it and my dreams, I let it sink in so that it could be my guide.

We are an impatient people, anxious to collapse time in nearly all of our encounters with it. In our gardens, we strive for that "finished" look, hence the insta-gardens featured on HGTV. Despite our addiction to newness, we want to disguise its rawness by rushing in to fill up all of the empty spaces. In one yard after another, I see people crowd the plants in, paying no heed at all to the fact that things grow. In a few years, the result is a tangled, overgrown mess that demands perpetual pruning but rarely gets it. I think most of our gardens would benefit from a little more patience- after all, any true gardener can tell you that a garden is never finished.

If garden time really is cyclical, not linear, then it would probably be helpful if we occasionally glance back over our shoulders. I teach several classes on garden design for the Austin Museum of Art, in one titled "The Sanctuary Garden" I encourage people to garden from their memories. Most of us, if prompted, can easily recall an outdoor or garden space that was especially meaningful to us as children. In my classes, the memories are as varied as the people who share them: "a tree fort, where I could look out over the entire backyard;" "a hidden spot, surrounded by shrubs where no one could see us;"
"my grandmother's garden, filled with flowers."

Memories can serve as our guides when we garden, and I help my students design garden that purposefully try to invoke the spaces that were so meaningful to them when they were young. A tree fort or look-out may be symbolically reinterpreted as a long view corridor that stretches across the expanse of the garden- the intimate "hidden spot" might be translated as an enclosed court yard, grandmother's garden as a free flowing perennial bed. In all cases, the effort is to intertwine garden time with personal history letting one flow into the other.

If all of this talk of memories and dreams has made you sleepy, consider your father's advice- "there's no time like the present." March is a time when we must be prepared to both "seize the day" and, in less martial terms, embrace it. Sure, there is much to be done- our gardens call to us with chores as well as charms. Before the season is past, however, let us recall the sages, who have reminded us to "be here now," to be awake to the gift of the moment.

So, let this be our waking time- our eyes opening to the dawn soft colors of a Central Texas spring. Spend some time with your garden before rushing to the nursery to spend your money, savor this season the way that you treasure an alarm clock free morning- when dreams are still within reach and inspiration is born.

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