Gardeners are a fickle lot. Either we’re rhapsodizing gooey-eyed about the resplendent, transcendent wonder of whatever miracle of nature we happen to have just witnessed (the emergence of the first tomato seed always does it for me) or we’re doing Scrooge one better and snarling “Bah, humbug!” The weather this past winter had us all in full snarling mode.
Now it’s high summer and we’re in the thick of something else. Storms, heat, drought, floods, wind, mosquitoes – and the tomatoes are (choose one) not ripening because it’s too chilly at night, not setting fruit because it’s too hot at night, cracking from irregular watering, getting blossom-end rot from calcium deficiency, being eaten by giant tomato hornworms, succumbing to early blight, succumbing to late blight … and so it goes. The gods must surely be against us. Woe and double woe.
At which point it’s time to turn to “the good book” for some words of counsel and solace. I mean of course The Essential Earthman by the late Henry Mitchell of The Washington Post. The first essay in this collection of his columns is called ”On the Defiance of Gardeners.” For those who imagine it must be nicer to garden in some other state of the Union, Mitchell bluntly announces, “It is not nice to garden anywhere,” and he proceeds to enumerate all the horrible things that happen in gardens and asserts, “There is no place, no garden, where these terrible things do not drive gardeners mad.”
In our current issue we have a story about a man who decided to indulge his Inner Pioneer and plant a “three sisters garden” of corn, beans and squash in his Wisconsin garden. It was a splendid success until the night the deer came and ravished it all (page 23). Bob Wendorff in Villa Park had a garden with glorious shade, much of it the bounty of an aged maple with a 4-foot diameter trunk. But then it up and died on him, necessitating removal by a 9-story-tall crane. (page 52)
And for our cover story this issue (page 42), we look at a fabulous garden on the Lake Michigan shoreline where a dedicated couple have devoted one section of their space to beautiful tropical plants that are prone to get the vapors and faint away like the most temperamental of Victorian heroines should the wind blow ever so sharply across the waters. These plants require a twice-annual schlepping to and from the greenhouse where they huddle together throughout the winter, muttering darkly among themselves about the cold and dreaming of spring.
Their owners go to all this trouble because they are gardeners with a vision – of beauty, I submit, and no doubt the joy that comes from creating beauty. So whatever the indignities inflicted on us by Nature, we persevere and fight back. “Defiance,” as Henry Mitchell said, “is what makes us gardeners.”