I often worry that my neighbors think I’m lazy. Yes, they may see me on my hands and knees, covered with dirt, and they may see me mowing the lawn and dumping out bags of grass clippings, but more often they’re likely to see me just standing in front of my plants. Looking. Staring.
This begins around the middle of March when I venture forth daily to check if anything has broken dormancy. Rummage around the clump of lady’s mantle and there, by golly gee whiz, is a half-inch folded pale green leaf. Yes! The plant’s alive and already on its way to blooming in a couple months. And here’s a crocus. That shoot wasn’t here yesterday, but now it’s up at least an inch. Tomorrow, will there be a flower?
In summer you may catch me staring at the Home Run Red rose. This is a super hardy plant with flowers whose color changes ever so slightly after 24 hours. To see it in its full glory, you have to catch the blossoms on the first day they’re open. And then you hang around for a second (and third) look, mesmerized.
This November the best autumn color came from my blueberry bush with its red leaves that virtually glowed in the setting sun. Such a color. Unique really. So how could I do something mundane like go inside for dinner when there was such beauty still to be appreciated in the great outdoors? Stand and stare. Food could wait.
As the blueberry finally faded away, the ‘Gold Pillar’ barberries came into their own. They had been yellow throughout the growing season but the last week of November, their leaves turned a majestic flame red. I had no idea barberries could be so beautiful. Every plant has its 15 minutes of fame.
Your mother may have told you not to stare, but there are exceptions. A while back there was an article in the Sunday New York Times that included a passage about the Impressionist painters. “They were people who spent time staring, though the world tapped them on the shoulder with all the distractions of life,” wrote Taffy Brodesser-Akner (“Travel”, Nov. 26, 2017). “They stared and stared at a singular scene or object until they knew it well enough to interpret it. They stared until they understood it.”
In other words, the Impressionist painters were people who knew how to look. Can the same be said of us?
A new gardening year is beginning, and we will soon be surrounded by beauty, some of it even of our own making.
Of course we need to make a point of slowing down to smell the roses, but let’s also remember to give our eyes a workout. Look at what’s around you, then stop, and look again.