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  • October 7th, 2008 | 8:53 PM
This post is not about writing

This post is not about writing.

It's about gardening.

About MY garden in the middle of the city of San Jose and the work we are doing to make it into a California Native Plant garden and native wildlife habitat.

I live in a regular neighborhood filled with lawns and standard shrubs and standard trees in the middle of their standard lawns. The yards are all, to me, very boring. But those yards, for the most part, make the owners of their homes happy and that's fine. They keep their places clean and picked up and that's all that matters to me.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion and everyone has one, that's for sure.

Last week I ordered a bunch of plants from Yerba Buena nursery. Normally I would really want to go pick out all the plants myself but in the essence of time, I trusted the crew at Yerba Buena to deliver beautiful plants and they did. The nominal $30 delivery was money well spent in my book. My husband had finished the dirt moving and creek bed digging. I had finished the first stage of pondering the plants, the background base shrubs, for the first stage of planting. I was excited and ready to begin.

Sunday morning I started moving cans around, playing with the placement until my husband came out with the shovel and said simply, "Dig now, right?"

And so it began. I won't go into all the plants we planted (saving something for new gardening blog.)

There is one person in the neighborhood that just can't understand why I am planting what I am planting. Why I am obsessed with native plants. This weekend, as we worked, she proceeded to tell me I should have just bought a house in the mountains if I wanted all that nature, that I should get used to the fact that I live in the city. She laughed and said we would have tons of weeding to do. (Which we will. Planting disturbs the soil which disturbs the weed bank and we do all weeding by hand.) She complained that all the stuff we were doing to the yard was kicking up dust in her house. I was kind. I did not point out the fact that she kept her screenless windows open all the time might have something to do with the dust issue. She will never understand nor appreciate what I am trying to do. I shouldn't care but she lives close enough that I can't ignore her. She puffed her cigarette in our faces and then got mad when we asked her to move away.

I've been studying California native plants and local native gardens for the last few years. Studying them merely as someone who enjoys plants and wildlife in the yard, as a hobbyist, not as a scientist. My brain can't wrap itself around the Latin names for the plant (which upsets a great many people in the native plant community) and I don't hold the information about most of the plants in my brain for long. And I don't care. (Something else that upsets some people in the native plant community.) I am not a landscape designed or a master gardener. I don't care to be, I want to learn enough to plant and enjoy my yard. If I had a larger plot of land, something more than my overgraded lot in the middle of big city, I would concentrate on a more pure approach. But I don't. Yes, I care about the environment and yes I am trying to plant responsibility, we did, after all, remove both water thirsty lawns and the replacement landscapes will be much less thirsty once established. But I am not trying to replicate what my tiny piece of land might have looked like 100 years or more ago. If that makes me a bad conservator of my property, I'm sorry.

When I learn something new I read a lot of books and ask a lot of questions. For native plants I turned to the native plants listserv and asked the experts all sorts of things. I'm sure some of my questions are very basic but for the most part, everyone is very kind. But some people are not. And by this I don't mean just on the lists I read but people I met, on and offline, everywhere.

Some people seem to delight in waiting for someone (not just me) to ask a question just so they can pounce. Sometimes they want to show off their own knowledge. Sometimes they want to push their own agenda. Sometimes, I think, they are just mean people who are always spoiling for a fight. It is exhausting. Planning and planting a garden of any kind should be a fun experience. There is a certain joy that comes in planting something, watching it grow, seeing the birds, bees, butterflies and bugs that come to feast. This is a certain sadness that comes when you make a wrong choice and the plant dies or you make a poor choice and the environment doesn't respond to the plant in the way you had hoped. You gnash your teeth and being to revise your plan. You learn from the sidestep. You pluck the plant out of the ground, replace it with something else, nurture it or not (depending on the plant) and hope the next version of your garden story has a happy ending.

But the thing is, you have to do it yourself. Any number of people telling you what did or didn't work for them is just advice you need to filter through your own system. When someone starts a conversation with me about plants and I share what I am trying, I don't expect to hear that it is perfect. I don't expect to hear that I nailed it. I like to hear that it has promise. That I made interesting choices. That they will be interested in seeing how it all turns out.

When someone responds with a list of plants that they like best, (ignoring the fact that it is my yard) with things that they think are wrong with all of my choices, well, it knocks me down a bit. Or a lot as was the case this week.

For the past few years I have held in my mind the goal of being on the Native Plant Garden tour someday. Now I'm not so sure it really matters. I don't want a bunch of people coming through my yard telling me that I should have planted one thing farther from something else, that another plant wants more sun than I am giving it, that my mulch is all wrong, and basically making me feel bad about what I have done in my yard. I know, no one can make me feel inferior without my permission (Thank you, Eleanor) but still, it hurts because it is a rejection of my work and it is a work in progress. I am still learning. Yes, some people's advice can save me some money and some pain and some frustration. But there is a way to give advice that some people have yet to learn.

I need to remember it is my yard. I need to take joy in the planning, the planting, watching the garden grow and seeing the wildlife come to visit.

I need to remember that it is my yard, my process, my journey and my garden story to tell, for better or worse.

This is just ramble, a sound-off of sorts.

This post is not about writing.

Or maybe it is.
(Tags: )
There are so many stories only you can tell.Tell them, please.


( 16 comments — Leave comment )
October 8th, 2008 04:36 am (UTC)
amen! Your yard, your process

(Deleted comment)
October 14th, 2008 04:37 am (UTC)
Thank you for the support. It does mean a lot. I wish we were neighbors too! Wouldn't that be fun?

okay, when I am finally laid off - phone date!
October 8th, 2008 01:27 pm (UTC)
To what newport2newport wrote; my sentiments exactly!
And I really empathize with what you are feeling Susan. When we built our house my wife did tons of research deciding what trees and shrubs she wanted to plant and where in the yard to place them. Of course when we got them and started putting them in we got flack from the neighbors. (To close to the property line, going to interfere with the power line, will shade my sunroom, to close to the fence and on and on.) But I guess my favorite was the incredulous look on the graphic artist's (She came to design the flower beds) face when she saw our redwood tree. Priceless! Now the only redwoods that grow in our area of the Midwest don't amount to much more than shrubs. But being a California native, I really wanted some kind of redwood TREE in our yard. Well, I found one at our nursery that was supposed to grow in our area. It is a species that was thought to be extinct but a small forest of them had been discovered in China. It was 5 feet tall when we planted it 3 years ago and only supposed to grow maybe a foot a year. The first year, when the graphic artist came out, it had grown 5 feet. Now after 3 years it’s taller than the house! The name of the species is Dawn’s Redwood. And my wife’s name happens to be Dawn.
Happy planting Susan! I can't wait to see the pictures when you are done.

Fred (Higgins)
October 14th, 2008 04:37 am (UTC)
Thanks, Fred. I love the way you found to keep a little bit of California with you far away.
October 8th, 2008 02:31 pm (UTC)
Wow, I'm sorry you're getting so much negativity. For what it's worth, my experience of being on the tour has been that everyone is very complimentary of the garden on tour day. I'm always afraid that it's not good enough, and I'm always surprised at how much people show the love. My biggest concern is your neighbor. I hope she'll come around or at least get out of your face, over time.
October 8th, 2008 02:39 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the input. It's weird, it's not constant negative, only a little. (Why would I plant something that was a CA native but not native to Santa Clara County? Yes, I know that if I was being super super good I would only plant things from my zip code like some people do but I figure at least I am not planting exotics from Hawaii or some such thing.)

What is hardest for me is when I have said this is what I am doing and a few people continue to tell me what they would do and I say thank you, I appreciate the feedback and then it goes on. It is probably MY problem because I am too sensitive and take it as a commentary on my ideas.

It was complicated by the fact that I called a nursery, a place that was supposed to help when I had questions (or so I thought) and when I asked for a suggestion about a particular location they told me they couldn't possibly know how wet my area was going to be and couldn't make a suggestion. Which was INSANE!

I think it was a bad week.

The neighbor. Grrr.
October 8th, 2008 02:53 pm (UTC)
PS - I am glad to hear that garden day was a good experience!
October 8th, 2008 03:28 pm (UTC)
Aw, hugs about the grumbly neighbor. Some people just hate it when they see anybody doing something positive. They're the Stepford people who just want everything exactly the same. She'll probably complain about the birds, too, and all that nasty singing :) To me, your garden sounds wonderful.
October 14th, 2008 04:38 am (UTC)
Thanks! She is just a pain in the arse. Grrr. I don't even think she is Stepford. She's mad at me because well stuff that I won't put here in public. We just don't mesh, that's for sure!
October 8th, 2008 03:32 pm (UTC)
Hey...this post might help me. My regular freelance gig is writing short profiles of different garden centers for a trade magazine. Would you suggest the Yerba Buena nursery as a good one to interview? I checked out their web site & it looked pretty cool, and the other place I tried to contact for an interview this month never got back to me. And I love the idea of writing about places that people I know have personally liked and recommended, though none of those have worked out yet!

Edited at 2008-10-08 03:33 pm (UTC)
October 8th, 2008 03:37 pm (UTC)
Absolutely! They are fabulous. Another great one for California Natives is Native Revival in Aptos, CA www.nativerevival.com And others to consider are Larner Seeds, www.larnerseeds.com and Annie's Annuals www.anniesannuals.com

October 8th, 2008 03:40 pm (UTC)
remembered more
There is also eastbaywilds.com and baynatives.com
October 8th, 2008 04:41 pm (UTC)
In my friends list, Susan, this post followed Jo's post about her book being challenged. What an interesting pair of posts, I thought. I think maybe neither about writing and they both are. They're about journeys and choice and tolerance and respect and process and open-mindedness and expansiveness and a whole lot of other really important pieces of life. And gardens. And books...
October 14th, 2008 04:39 am (UTC)
Wow...what timing, eh?

Yes, it isn't about writing and yet it is. It is about being true to ourselves. Or at least that's what it is for me.
October 10th, 2008 03:10 pm (UTC)
In my mind, gardening and writing are so connected. Both are about creation and creativity.
October 14th, 2008 04:39 am (UTC)
I very much agree!
( 16 comments — Leave comment )

Who am I?I was born on the Cancer/Leo cusp and share a birthday with Ernest Hemingway and Robin Williams. The similarities don't stop there as I can go from depressed to ecstatic without ever passing go. I feel scared most of the time though my friends call me brave and I find it easier to believe in my friends than to believe in my own abilities to make what I want out of my life.

Who am I? A wife, a mother, a daughter, and even, gulp, a grandmother.

Who am I? A writer who never gets tired of playing with words, even when the words are hard to find. A writer of books for children and articles for grown-ups and many things in-between.

Who am I? A motivational speaker, writing instructor, workshop leader and full-time follower of dreams.

Who am I? Read and find out.

Susan Taylor Brown

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