I can’t draw. It isn’t that I am not ‘artistic;’ my home is full of paintings, sculpture, and furniture I have made. More precisely, I can’t draw a plan for my ‘garden.’ And that isn’t to say I couldn’t draw a garden plan–I have done that numerous times, sketches or graph-paper plans, or both, sometimes even successfully depending on who is caring for the actual plantings. (I’m looking at you, Dad. It’s called water. Use some, it really helps.)
What I mean is, as I plant into my clearing and the woods immediately surrounding it, a plan is worthless. Things change too quickly. Plants that have thrived for a year or more spontaneously die–perhaps it is some sort of horticultural Seppuku, maybe my soil is haunted; more likely, there are toxins in the anemic and clayey glacial till, and/or my nemeses the Mountain Beavers are gnawing on the roots from beneath. Beyond Sudden Plant Mortality Syndrome, there is the irksome DISAPPEARANCE of plants: again, there the plant is, just plant-ing, and then it is gone. This certainly is the work of the Mountain Beavers, whose habits are unpredictable and inexplicable…look at my good friend, Triple-trunked Mountain Hemlock, attractively stunt-y and twisted for months. Then one morning it is Single-trunked Mountain Hemlock, and the branches on the remaining trunk start two and a half feet off the ground. Grrrr. Mountain Beavers are like Woodland Anarchists–they know something is expensive, so they wreck it. Then they disappear into their underground lairs to eat their own feces and accumulate giant fleas, all the while plotting their nefarious return to my sunlit surface world.
The main reason I don’t have a “plan” is that so much just depends on the look and the feel
of the plantings as I try to accommodate Nature’s constant changes. Like any gardener I am always considering my handiwork, observing it from this angle or that elevation. What ‘works?’ What doesn’t? I need to imagine and foretell what a forest would do (besides eat my plants or kill them), and how to get this scalene triangle to interlock with that. I am patterning my clearing after essentially two fairly different kind of forest environments–the sea level and the mountain, as I am halfway between the two. As time passes I learn more about how my woodland clearing works–or doesn’t–and when I learn something new I need to veer in that direction, when change occurs I need to adapt, and quickly. Were my clearing surrounded by an attractive fence instead of threatening-looking 100-foot tall trees, I might be more methodical, I might spend less time trying to turn brodies in a battleship. I am designing a garden, but I am designing it inside of a forest– I am freezing a river in summer, I am putting a tattoo on the wind.