Here are the samenesses between Monet and his gardens at Giverny and me and my gardens in Maine.
*Monet and I are/were/who-knows-may-be-again humans.
*Monet and I both love/d gardens
*Monet and I both bought relatively small parcels of land upon which to garden (like, compared to Louis XIV, who had 800 hectares at Versailles and – math – that equals 1,976 acres). Monet’s gardens are about 1 hectare, which equals 2.47 acres. My gardens are on about 2 acres.
*Monet’s Giverny has a road running through it. On one side sits the house and flower gardens, on the other are the water gardens (where Monet’s very famous water lilies grow to this day). My gardens also span a road, with the house and flower gardens on one side, and water on the other (okay, mine slopes down to a salty avenue of the Atlantic and has lobsters, not lilies (but they both begin with ‘L’!)).
*Each of our properties – Monet’s and mine – annexed their ‘watersides’ after the original houses and gardens were established.
*Monet moved to Giverny in the second half of his life. I moved to The Inn in the second half (hopefully!) of mine.
*Monet famously said he would spend all of his money on his garden. JoHn says I don’t have to say a dang thing, just let my actions speak for themselves.
*I can paint (walls) and Monet could paint (more than walls).
So, we are exactly the same except for the beard.
Oh, I know, I know. Why brag on the connection with Monet – this man who was, by all accounts, a disagreeable person with disagreeable friends who was, at times, the embodiment of the tortured artist trope?
Because Giverny is my spirit garden. Has been, for as long as I can remember.
I can’t even really tell you why (Just like spirit animals, spirit gardens choose you). It’s not that I yearn to recreate it. I think it’s more about the inspiration and drive to bring such a space into being over tens of years.
He gave himself over to the whispers from within. You know, the muse-y, inspirational-y, genius-y voices that nudge and push and propel us into our creativity?
Oh c’mon. You know them! They whisper those sweet encouragements into our ears, while friends and family (and sometimes complete strangers) wonder – too often out loud – “Are you crazy?!”
I am a big fan of those whispers. I am also a big fan of those who put their vulnerability right out there – even when it feels… just a little bit mad.
2020 has given me the push I needed – well, it gave me a shove and sent me stumbling – toward embracing what I already kind of knew, but didn’t want to admit.
The Inn was right.
Back in 2005, on the first day I saw it, The Inn told me it there would be a Garden here. Not the series of garden beds and foundation plantings I’d had at the other places we’ve lived. But a Garden – capital G – that has interconnections and flows, surprises and delights (and giggles), and called to the senses and birds and wild things.
Though, at one point I overachieved so should be clear: I don’t want to attract *all* wild things.
Such a garden requires one to dive in and really commit to overall design and how the bits fit within the whole, the creativity, the research… the time (no biggie, a few decades should do).
I know. Sounds daunting. But…
I started spending more time in/retreated to the gardens as the spring became summer. It wasn’t to hide my head in the proverbial sand (which, here, is more dirt (and, all too often, clay)), but to connect to, and make sense of, the world – and my place in it – outside of news/opinion/social media/et cetera. I am not useful if I cannot listen to the world with my heart. And, with all the digging, surveying, pruning, considering – the whispers from within, they got louder.
I began to sense that there was something missing from the gardens as they were. Being that I was in the midst of my first worldwide pandemically-driven lockdown, I had a little time to read, and research… and dream. I found myself reading the words of, and looking at the works of, some pretty cool gardening humans… Mary Reynolds… Francis Cabot… Piet Oudolf…
But it was a question by Bill Nobel, in his book, Spirit of Place: The Making of a New England Garden, that stopped me in my tracks. He was talking about (well, writing about, but I count it as him talking) what makes a garden… how it relates to the larger landscape, whether or not its a personal expression, how it works with the existing architecture on the site…
And then, and I swear this was accompanied by angelic horns and deity sounds, Bill asked, “Above all, does the garden evoke an emotional response?”
There it was for me. The question.
Not: Are all of the plants deadheaded/pruned/behaving?
Not: Are the hardscape-y things – the fences, walls, walkways – in perfect working order (or, you know, standing straight)?
Not: Can I impress folks with my knowledge of both the common and latin names for each of my plants/trees/shrubberies/geologic choices?
No, instead, “… does the garden evoke an emotional response?”
I stopped reading as soon as that question entered my brain and began working it’s way into my being. I know it’s a good goal, because it inspires me every time I ask it. And it makes me smile.
To create something – a painting, a quilt, a poem, a photograph… a garden – that evokes an emotional response. Beauty with feeling… a salve for the soul, put out into the world.
What was, before this past spring, a litany of reasons why I was not really a gardener, has shifted into a more confident, laugh-at-myself list of the type of gardener I am…
*I am a self-taught gardener who has had a lot of help over the years, and tends to break breaking the rules.
*My plants are always too close together, my planting technique leaves a lot to be desired, and I still get so nervous dividing plants that I usually have to have someone with me for emotional support.
*I come at the overall garden from the perspective of light and shadow, texture and color. I am more interested in composing than in botany-ing, and the flora and fauna in my gardens are almost always as incorrigible as I am.
I will continue to seek out and accept lots of help and input and guidance (and hire when I can, because Monet had six full time gardeners, and I don’t think the sixTY or so squirrels buzzing around and digging holes in my Garden count as help!))). But this spring and summer have given me the kick in the pants to listen to the whispers from within… to really own this Garden as creative work, an interconnected, magical series of spaces… that, hopefully, evokes an emotional response.
With that said, this is some of what has been happening behind the scenes at The Inn’s Gardens since March (all pics taken this past week)…
The most-used stone pathway between the farmer’s/farmers/farmers’ porch and the barn got a facelift – ‘lift’ being the operative word, as it was brought back to ‘level’ and is about two to three inches higher than it was when the project started! Yes, those are yet-to-be-planted plants you see behind the catmint. There are always yet-to-be-planted plants here!
A ‘hidden path’ for little eyes and feet, through the Bishop’s Weed (which was here when we moved in and has been beaten back about as far as it’s willing to go (it’s a constant battle!)) has been started. And there are some new trees atop the hill…
Encouragement of more little ‘vignettes’…
The cleaning up of smaller, lesser seen/used spaces…
A closer look…
Re-edging of ‘The Octopus’ (actually a labyrinth), which is one area that I think has oodles of ‘evokes an emotional response’ potential.
New designs/plantings around challenges and constraints…
And some new help for and old friend…
I have found myself out in the garden, doing at least something, nearly every day since late March, and it has been both therapeutic, as well as inspirational. In another week, we should be finishing up the stepping stone path through the Bishop’s Weed, and a couple of artisans will arrive to create a small knee wall (stone) between that and some recently planted juniper shrubs (to keep the dang Bishop’s Weed back!). We’ll also plant a few trees – Colorado blue spruce and two much coveted (by me!) crabapple varieties. I’ll take some pics of that project and share the befores and afters once things are underway.
Until next time, I hope you have found your own, positive therapies and distractions as we navigate our current, somewhat surreal trip around the sun together. Feel free to share them – your own personal therapies, and ways of staying connected but not overwhelmed – in the comments here and/or there (facebook). Who knows what good stuff we might inspire in each other (whispers… whispers… :)).
Thanks for readin’!
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