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  • Sharon White

Editing the Garden (with inspiration from Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd)

Updated: Feb 22, 2020

I've been reading Our Life in Gardens by Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd. It's a wonderful book and it's taken me through a difficult week here in Vermont. My mother has had a stroke, and for a few days my sister and brother and I sat with her in a room at a hospital nearby. She's recovering, but is having a hard time talking. This is frustrating for her--she's a storyteller, a vivacious talker. Now we're home and with therapy we hope she'll be back to talking as much as she wants.

My garden here was neglected for weeks. I was home in Philadelphia and my mother was off on a cruise. Reading Our life in Gardens has made me look at the garden with a more critical eye. The common yellow daylilies, Stella de Oro, that are blooming all over Windsor now were out of place in my combination of peonies and lilies and ferns and wild flowers. Too egg-yolk yellow, too squat. I yanked them out and plopped them in with the mixture of daylilies around the deck. A new miniature goatsbeard was lost behind a hollyhock, so I tore it out and put it in the front of the long border that curves around the front of the house, a kind of repetition for the two astilbes mixed in with cone flowers and turtlehead. If all this sounds violent--it was, sort of. It felt good to reorder the plants. Put them in their right places.

Eck and Winterrowd describe their plants in sensuous detail. I felt at sea not knowing all the variations in petal they describe: "bloomscape," or "watery blue funnels," or "each petal (sepal actually) is curved," or "two dozen lax, inch-wide petals (tepals, to be technical) recall the snow recently deep on the ground." Their garden seems to be designed with plants near their relatives. I'd already moved tall plants next to taller plants. Now my daylilies are back together blooming their heads off.

One of the gifts of this rearranging has been to find compost at the edge of the yard, just waiting there. Years of leaves and cut grass mixed into a crumbly loam that I've been spreading on the garden.

Right now my mother is slowly calling up the words for petals and blooms, right on the tip of her tongue, waiting there until all the tiny connectors knit themselves back together again.

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