There are problem areas in a garden and then there are problem gardens, period. Poor drainage, terrible views, a neighbor with a security light fixation, barking dogs, chain-link fences, no fences, steep hills, deep gullies, dry shade, rocky soil, that neighbor with the security light fixation (worth mentioning twice) and a hundred other issues that can, and often do, stop us from enjoying the place where life has placed us for a year, five years or two decades.
Most of us never intended to be ‘placed’ anywhere, and are still reeling a bit from the knowledge that the economic events of the last two decades have decided a few things for us without our blessing or indeed, our reluctant consent. We wanted a huge vegetable garden and instead have a massive walnut tree suppressing all forms of life on a marginal slope. We wanted beautiful views but a developer wanted to make a few bucks off surrounding properties. Perhaps we just wanted a porch to sit upon, and instead we have a front step.
And we are thus served with a choice: accept where we are, right now, and use our creativity and positivity to create and maintain a home and garden, or live angry, resentful and envious of others around us.
Spelled out in this way, the choice might seem obvious…but for many people, it is anything but. Making the decision to live in a state of contentment is actually a series of choices that must be made every day. Some of us do that instinctively, and some of us must train ourselves to see the joy in conquering adversity – knowing that it takes time to build a habit of mind.
Years ago, a co-worker of mine was complaining about the torn curtains literally rotting in the front room of her rented flat. “Replace them!” I exclaimed, having spent years sewing cheap coverings for windows to brighten up rented digs too numerous to count. “Why should I?” she said indignantly, “I don’t own the flat.”
“But you live there.” I challenged her. “You’ve lived there for ten years. It’s your home.”
“Nevertheless.” She ended the discussion, passed the wine, and changed the subject.
Let’s think about this for a minute shall we? Would you rather stare at ugly, rotting curtains every morning over your coffee and every evening over your mac and cheese and grow ever more resentful over the larger picture of where you are and where you may or may not be going; or replace them with something that makes you smile, even if it’s as simple as a Goodwill quilt and a few clothespins?
It may be odd to discuss window treatments when I should be yammering about gardens, but whereas many of my readers are still struggling with the idea that somewhere inside them lurks a hidden gardener, everyone has curtain issues.
What are the rotting curtains in your outside space? Do you have odds and ends lying around, cluttering the yard? Remove them. Are you tired of looking at your neighbor’s half-painted shed? Plant a row of fast growing Manhattan euonymus. Sick of looking of the peeling paint on your own? Grab a gallon of paint and a weekend and solve it. Wanted a vegetable garden but don’t have the legs of a billy goat to tend your 20% slope? Plant cheap decorative grasses and put some tomato pots on the porch. Find a way to put your individual stamp on the place where life finds you right now.
We must claim our living spaces, whatever they are, because they are just that – our living spaces. We nest here. We raise our kids, live our heartbreaks and experience some of our greatest joys here. For gardeners, would-be gardeners, and if-only-I-had-the-perfect-place gardeners, we cheat ourselves if we keep waiting.
This year, don’t wait. Embrace the imperfect, cultivate a spirit of contentment, and be prepared for the magical ways in which your gardening efforts will enhance your life.