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Thomas Jefferson wrote to Charles Wilson Peale in a letter of August 20, 1811, “…tho’ an old man, I am but a young gardener.” It is an observation I often think upon.
I always feel I am in the apprentice stage, but recently I came upon an experience that made me realize how much I take for granted the accumulative knowledge of almost a lifetime of gardening and study.
Walking in the early spring sunshine within a part of the Atlanta Botanical Garden with my son and grandson, I found myself standing beside a group of ladies. They were discussing what a certain set of blooms might be, some which were very common to me because I’d grown them for years. I piped up “Those are anemones, Anemone Blanda”. The women took note of the little daisy like blue flowers, and then one said, “Can we follow you around the garden?” We all laughed, and I demurred.
It did cause me to take a closer look at this spot in the garden, marked with nameplates, to see why the confusion. I found a number of the markers were holding spots for later appearing perennials, and while there was one for Anemone blanda, it wasn’t obvious which planting it referred to, not remarkable for ephemeral spring bulbs.
It made me realize the gulf between what I take for granted in my working familiarity with plants, and where I started so many years ago. That trip also afforded me insight into the idea that I might actually have some expertise. My son and I remarked on a tree growing in his yard that to me was unquestionably the redbud tree, Cercis canadensis. He actually looked it up, and we laughed that he hoped to prove me wrong. I thought about my answer to him, “I’ve grown that tree for years, researched it, and wrote about it, I know what it is.”
-And that wasn’t even the half of it… I also have observed it for years in arboretums, photographed it, and taken note as I traveled from Atlanta to Ohio, numerous springtimes, as it lights the hill and mountain roads among the bare branches of the larger hardwood shade trees. Yes, I know the Redbud.
And now today I have come across an article where someone called themselves one whose “knowledge of gardening is extensive”. and it struck me. The more years I garden, reading and writing about it, the less I believe I know. Like Jefferson I have to say I might be old, but I am a young gardener. There is so very much that can continually be learned.
It has made me think, and consider.
Not only that, but to be so grateful for a life that has afforded me the privilege of tending a garden so intimately, of becoming friends with earth and tree, and blossom. Grateful to dig in the rich and fragrant soil, to watch over the forming fruits and taste the harvested sweetness of ones own planting.
It is a rich kind of experience, but also one that is humbling. No real gardener of any length of time can be proud in the face of nature. Ones small part is too often recognized in the variability of the weather and the outcomes.
With that humbling truth however is also the empowering one like that glimpse into the reservoir of knowledge that has accrued. The importance of our part is also revealed in the revelation that if we do not cultivate and plant, then there will be no garden. If we do not sow the seed, there will be no harvest.
Nature has its part, we have our part, and all is held within the hand of God to give the increase. I am made happy by the generosity of that increase in the majority of years.
I am looking forward to another growing season, its lessons and fruits.