My First Garden

My first apartment had a tiny backyard garden that was tended to by my elderly neighbor. It was paradise: a little patch of soft grass surrounded by lush foliage and small trees. I loved it out there. I always think better outside, in the green. And it made me dream of having a garden of my own one day. 

My dogwood this spring.

We moved into our condo (which feels more like a little cottage) last summer and it came with not one, but two private patios with French doors and plenty of earth to play with. If I couldn't have a fireplace, then French doors opening out to secret gardens would be a perfect second choice. The previous owner hadn't done much in the way of landscaping.  What was there was haphazardly planted and — my guess — was probably what had been on sale at Home Depot. I wanted to wait the season out to see what grew over the summer and fall before planting anything, and while that didn't make for a beautiful garden last year, it gave me a chance to really think about what I wanted things to look like. 

Just arrived!  Lavenders and grasses from  High Country Gardens .

Just arrived!  Lavenders and grasses from High Country Gardens.

This is my first experience tending to plants that aren't in pots, and so far it's been working out nicely.  I love my patio gardens for what they're evolving into. I can now hang string lights in my trees!  I feed the birds (and squirrels and chipmunks), and on nice days I take my office outside to work under the umbrella.  Sherman and Miss Kid often join me.

Sherman, my orange tabby cat.
Miss Kid, my little old lady cat, photographed with a pot of lavender.

I've been photographing things in black and white too, which makes me happy.  Gardens are so full of color, but there's something about catching their quiet moods in monochrome.

The Japanese maple.
Columbine seed heads.
Coral Bells

At first I was nervous. I'm pretty good at keeping house plants alive, but outside gardens seem like professional territory. Fortunately I remember the encouraging words of Gayla Trail, author of my favorite gardening books. She says something to the effect of “Don't worry so much. Plants want to grow." Somehow that gives me great comfort! And it's true: even the old plants I ripped out and piled in a corner for the compost bin have continued to thrive despite my complete neglect. I am impressed!

I'm finding out that - like a lot of other things in life - keeping a garden is really mostly about paying attention. I start the morning and end the day saying hello to the plants. It always amazes me when something changes!  Overnight, the hibiscus tree has an insane amount of flowers! ... the green bean seeds sprouted...  there’s a tomato nestled in the leaves that I didn’t notice before.  Best of all is picking my own fresh herbs for cooking. My fingers smell delicious all day. 

My box of herbs.
The first cherry tomato.
The hibiscus tree.

Sadly but inevitably, I had my first garden casualty: Sherman got hold of a shrew (I had to do some research to find out what it was... not quite a mouse, not quite a mole, not quite a vole...) and he apparently played with it too long.  I buried the little guy under the ferns in the front garden...

Shrew in the ferns.
Fern leaves.

I am told a garden is never finished. I suppose how can it be? It’s a living thing, and there will always be something to do, to weed out, to transplant or switch around.  I have to let go of wanting to feel "done."  It will always be a work in progress.  I have ideas for what's next but I want to give this year's plantings a chance to settle in. There's no rushing a garden, I'm already finding out, but that's becoming fine with me. 

p.s. - Did you spot Valentine (my little green bird) in one of the photos?


Well, I'm stumbling my way through having this blog; two months is too long for a new entry! That said, I have to believe that whatever it is we do, regardless of how many times we stop and start, it is the starting again that's important. How else do dreams come true?

It is springtime, and on a trip out to Dawes Arboretum for a picnic I thought I'd bring my camera, certain I'd wind up with some landscapes to post here. As I sifted through the images, though, my landscapes didn't grab me. Instead it seemed that this series of florals wanted to be seen. Funny how it is that our idea of what something should be most often isn't what winds up happening at all. The trick, I guess, is learning to get out of our own way so that we have room to listen to the thing that's really calling.


Then and now

While visiting my family in Florida for Christmas I wound up in Miami to shoot a portrait session at Vizcaya. A few years ago I happened upon Vizcaya in a book on gardens and I knew I wanted to photograph there. In July I was able to go, but artistically I just wasn't present. I just wasn't "seeing" things the way I used to. The last year or two has been a bit of a struggle for this. I so enjoy my freelance commissions but have trouble with the balance between it and my own personal work. I go shooting for "me" so infrequently that when I do, I feel all this pressure to see great things and come up with new stuff for my portfolio. Consequently I don't see a thing.

Years ago I used to take my camera with me everywhere. I never worried about "making art" - somehow it was more about recording and remembering the days. Even casual snapshots wound up getting worked on in the darkroom. I had a blast. This was my life. I think when my camera got bigger I stopped taking it along. And then digital changed things too (but that's another post). Film makes me slow down. I can't see what I just photographed. And I know I could shut off the display on the digital, but I'm too tempted to look. Film nudges me to move on without stopping to second-guess what I shot. It puts the focus on my experience of a place, rather than on whether or not I just took a fabulous picture of it.

This visit to Vizcaya was so different from the one six months ago. I brought digital, yes, but I also brought film. I walked around just looking. I had fun. It was the exact same place but I saw it so differently. The shift has come because I am finally trying to let go of the pressure to create art every time I look through my viewfinder. I am just having plain-old fun again. If something portfolio-worthy turns up, great, but it's not as important as seeing the magic wherever I am and getting it down.


Visit my Flickr site if you'd like to see a few more photos from the gardens.