I am a lover of gardens, not a student of them. Until very recently. I didn’t know a coleus from a columbine. At least, I didn’t know their names.
But, like most self-assured innocents, I knew what I liked and what I didn’t like. And one thing I definitely didn’t like was too many colors.
My grandmother’s garden had too many colors. Everyone knew that my grandmother loved plants. So every Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Easter or birthday her home was filled with pots from the local florist. My grandmother stuck every single one of these plants in the ground with a sprinkle of used coffee grounds and a wish for good luck with the Connecticut winter. Through sheer dint of numbers, a lot of them made it.
From a social point of view, my grandmother’s garden was a raving success. Folks would spot an overgrown begonia and exclaim, “Oh, Annie! Look at the size of that one! Isn’t that the plant I gave you last Easter?” And of course, my grandmother always said yes.
From an aesthetic point of view, however, my grandmother’s garden was a disaster. I’d walk through thinking, “Oh, this yellow one is pretty. And that pink one is lovely. And that orange one is really gorgeous. But all together, they give me a headache.”
Recently, I had a similar headache. I was engulfed in that most insidious of curses: the curse of too many interesting things to do. Write the letter, refinish that yard sale table, mount the family pictures given to me by my aunt, learn the new computer chess program, start that intriguing novel on the Civil War my friend loaned me, finish the last butterfly on my crewel sampler.
It was all wonderful. But it was all too much. My mind would swirl from one project to the other. Then, instead of writing, refinishing, mounting, learning, reading, starting or finishing, I would just go collapse into a chair on the patio and stare into space.
Around this time, a noted Palm Beach landscaper was kind enough to help us beautify the small strip of land between our pool and our neighbor’s fence. He, of course, is the expert on gardens. But shades of my grandmother’s yard haunted me. I did not hesitate to tell him: I do not want too many colors.
That dream of all plantsmen, “the instant garden”, can be a reality in Florida, and within very short time, soothing shades of green, calming points of cream, warm peaches and reds welcomed me when I stumbled out to the patio. As I stared at the lovely scene, I noticed that my garden changed again and again with each angle of sun or cover of cloud, each gust of wind or shower of rain. Flowers, leaves, branches moved in an ever-changing kaleidoscope, rich, interesting, never boring yet never overwhelming. And all with only three colors. Gradually, the message got through to me: my inner garden, too, is at its best with just a few colors.
I put the yard sale table away, stored the pictures in a safe place, took the chess program off of my computer: all secured safely in the nursery of fun things to do in the future. With renewed energy, calm and enjoyment, I cultivated my remaining projects. And they bloomed beautifully.