Sunday, October 9, 2011

Gardening With Gardeners


Gardening is not a team exercise. The solitude, for me anyway, is all part of the grace of having my hands in the dirt.  It is a way to relax and recharge while obtaining a sense of accomplishment and pride.  However, sharing my love of growing things with other like-minded people takes it to a whole new level.

This is nothing new.  People form communities around shared interests all the time – whether a dance club, antique cars, quilting, or furniture building.  My first foray into garden groups was when I lived in Portland, Oregon.  Portland has several intense garden clubs and societies that intimidated me immensely.  At the time there was a definite economic stratification that I couldn’t fit into and I was very much into edible landscaping and that didn’t seem to fit anywhere either. 

My secret weakness was still English cottage-style inspired by Gertrude Jekyll and I greedily absorbed every issue of Fine Gardening and Horticulture magazines.  In the late 1980s, Horticulture had a very robust garden symposium schedule and came to Portland or Seattle several times.  When I saw that they were bringing the “Cottage Garden” road show to Portland, I immediately signed up.  Several guest speakers were curators of large public gardens and one gentleman was an expert on grasses.

I was blown away.  The attendees were not the stuffy garden club members I expected.  These people were serious plant scholars.  Many were professionals in the landscape and nursery trade, but many more were educators, writers, and plant breeders.  Latin names of plants rolled off of tongues and well-thumbed volumes of Hortus were dutifully toted.  The speakers were absolutely amazing and I learned more that day then entire hort classes at Oregon State.  The grass expert was touting the use of grass as specimen plantings in the landscape and his insistence of replacing turf grass with low growing native sedges inspires me to this day.   It was really this experience that got me to thinking about becoming a Master Gardener.

But years had to pass before I acted, and it wasn’t until I moved here to Austin that I really pursued gardening groups in earnest.  Part of it was because I have never lived outside of the Pacific Northwest before, and I wanted to reach expert level really fast in my new home to try to avoid costly mistakes.  So I signed up for Master Gardener certification and accepted an invitation to join a garden blogger group.

Again I was, and continue to be, blown away.  Both of these groups contain a very diverse group of gardeners.  Most of them belong to several other plant societies or garden industry trade groups.  Everyone is passionate about what they do and are eager to talk about it.  Both provide the opportunity to visit each other’s gardens and to see how all those nursery plants are functioning in the home landscape.  Some have garden helpers, but all have their hands in the dirt.  I have more fun and learn more than I ever have about plant culture, site selection, irrigation, and pest management.  A few weeks ago I hosted a group of friends and it was such a treat to talk politics (organic or not), garden design, drought survival tactics, gripe about the weather, more politics (water restrictions, gray water regulations) and what was going to be planted in our gardens this fall.

Gardening in Central Texas is a huge challenge.  The onslaught of pests, the extremes in weather, the soil, and now the drought make it impossible for one person to stand up against it alone.  It has made me a better gardener – simply because I plan better, but more importantly, it has taught me to appreciate and seek out a community.   I am having more fun than I ever did in the plant paradise of the Pacific Northwest.  And while I’m still not a “latin only” speaker, I’m better informed and more open to new ideas.  Thank you everyone!