New Beginnings in the Garden: Let Your Dreams Grow - by Tom Spencer / Soul of the Garden

This morning, when I took my "second cup of coffee walk" through the garden, I found myself on new turf. After living in a condominium for over sixteen years I have moved, leaving my beloved garden behind. I have taken up residence in an older home fairly close to the center of town. For weeks, I have been able to dream of little but my new yard; it is huge and deeply shaded by dozens of lacebark elms, a stately pecan, bamboo thickets, and assorted weedy trees. It is beautiful as it is, but of course, that will not do. My dreams have already taken root and I am scheming about the garden to come.

To be honest, this is not the yard of my dreams. I have always envisioned a blank slate, a space devoid of hindrances to whatever grand plans I might concoct. However, there is much to admire about this place, cluttered though it may be. My new neighborhood was apparently carved out of a large nursery that was subdivided back in the early-fifties. I like the idea of living on a former nursery site, it has a nice karmic ring to it. Still, when I made my way to the far back corner of the property this morning, in the midst of the bamboo and forgotten wood piles, I couldn't help but feel like a stranger.

It will take a little time to let go of my old garden, to emotionally disinvest myself of it and fully commit to this new place. Yesterday, while returning to the condominium to pick up a few last items, I felt a pang of guilt about leaving the garden in the care of others. I had to resist pulling out a hose to water a few wilting plants. But, let go I must, my energy reserves have already been seriously depleted by the move and I doubt I will be able to sustain any prolonged attachment to the place that I nurtured for so long.

I will soon make my mark on the new yard, but my first acts will be those of subtraction. I have already hired an arborist to prune some trees, and remove many more. As soon as the house is in order, I will attack the bamboo with a vengeance. I may eventually leave a small stand in the very back, but only after restraining it behind a heavy-duty barrier. I want to clear as much of the slate as is reasonable and necessary, then meditate on what remains. I have made a commitment to myself that I will not begin to lay out the new garden until the fall, I want to spend the summer planning, not planting.

Most folks find it hard to resist sticking plants in the ground right away- we think of our yards as curbs in need of appeal, or rooms to be accessorized, not spaces to be created. However, creating a new garden is more about architecture than interior design. I don't quite know where the walls or doors will be, so why should I rush in and hang the pictures? It is important to spend time with a yard and let the new garden reveal itself to you gradually. When I set out to redesign our condominium courtyard, it took months to weigh various design schemes before I settled on the master plan. I bounced ideas off of trusted friends and listened to the concerns of my neighbors- I am convinced that one of the reasons that my old garden worked was that I took the time to consider their opinions.

My new yard, unlike the shared space of the condominium, can be bent more to my whims… but the truth is, right now, I can't trust them. For example, I have always loved the idea of creating an allee, or double file line, of bald cypress trees that would mimic our hill country stream courses. For the past few weeks I have been envisioning which trees would have to be cut down, and which side of the yard would be best suited for my faux Frio. But, this morning, as my coffee turned cold waiting for me to decide, I had to consider the possibility that a cypress allee might not work here after all. Damn.

Later, I met a fencing contractor here and talked about enclosing the back yard. He was very impressed by the stands of trees and the beauty of the yard as it is. He spoke with a French accent and I asked him where he was from, Brittany as it turns out, from a town along the coast. Ah, I thought to myself, a Frenchman will understand my need for an allee, so I briefly described my plans. Surely, I would find a sympathetic ear. He listened and nodded approvingly as I described the grand vision of things to come- he was unaware of his role as the first of many unwitting advisors I will consult. Perhaps I will find somebody to dissuade me, perhaps not. It is critical however, that I create the space where a contrary opinion might arise. That is gardening of a sort too.

There are a few things about this yard that are immediately apparent, as for the rest, I guess that I will have to wait and trust that the truth will be revealed. As with any new adventure, I am anxious for the first steps, but if you've gardened long enough, you learn that there is no destination, no arrival, only the journey. Perhaps this evening, when I sleep, a new dream will take root, and a new garden will bloom.

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