Though planning may help, a truly beautiful garden is a work of inspiration.
Every great gardening book I have ever read has a section filled with recommendations on planning your garden. The advice may be as simple and obvious as ``Plant tall flowers at the back of the flower bed and short ones at the front.'' Or it may be as complicated as instructions for measuring the angles of the sun throughout its yearly cycle to maximize its effect on the plants growing in the garden.
Tips and techniques on the use of colors and bloom time, how-to diagrams and step-by-step instructions and illustrations offer the novice and expert gardener alike just about everything needed to learn about site selection, soil preparation, plant choices and proper planting techniques.
Most often the first step suggested in the planning process begins with a paper sketch of the proposed garden. Once a satisfactory design is made, the gardener can then begin the hard work of bringing it to life in the soil. It can be a daunting task. The desired result, of course, is a beautiful, well-planned garden.
While the suggestions of the gardening books are valid and the payoff may indeed be a well-planned garden, truly beautiful gardens are more inspired than planned. Truly beautiful gardens reflect the spirit of the gardener and cleverly camouflage meaningful connections known only to the gardener. Truly beautiful gardens evolve and unfold as the gardener grows and evolves.
The little things
Some people begin gardening as a utilitarian venture. Mary Pat Feifarek remembers that she started vegetable gardening when her children were young. She harvested, canned and enjoyed the fruits of her garden. The flowers in her garden were often dried and used in arrangements. Now she gardens with a different frame of mind.
``We picked our house because the yard was so beautiful,'' she said. Soon, the functional purpose for her gardening gave way to a new intention of wanting to continue the beauty of the garden and add her own touches.
Feifarek's change in perspective on gardening has been influenced by John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club, who is often credited as the father of the national parks. Muir captured the spirit of his belief that all living things are a part of the whole by saying: ``When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.''
``I keep that quotation by my desk,'' Feifarek said. ``I want to take care of the garden for those after me. I can add a little piece of myself to the garden.''
Although she does not claim to be an artist, Feifarek said she can become one in her garden.
``I can plant a Japanese painted fern and hostas in front of the stone wall and I have created a picture,'' she said.
Gardening is not only about flowers.
``Gardening teaches me a lot about life,'' she said. ``Not only the life cycle of spring, summer, fall and winter, but also, similar to children, it is something you can't control.''
She recounted ``painstakingly planting seeds in certain spots last year.'' Mother Nature had different plans for Feifarek's hard work. A few days after her planting session, a downpour of rain washed the seeds into the woods behind her yard.
The bonus to these uncontrollable situations is the unexpected appearance of flowers in the most unusual places.
``There is a Jack-in-the-pulpit growing where I didn't put it,'' Feifarek said. ``That's delightful. It's a gift."
The more Feifarek and I chatted about gardening, the more I realized what a gift a person's garden is to the self.
``The things that are most dear to me are the little things, like the Jack-in-the-pulpit and the stone wall,'' she said. ``When I look at a certain tree, I think, `That's where I saw the owl.' And I love the tree for that.''
I have seen Feifarek's garden. But I do not remember seeing it through her eyes, her explanations, her spirit.
Now I want to return to see the Jack-in-the-pulpit she talked about and the tree where the owl was. I want to see her cherished stone wall with her ``picture'' of hostas and painted ferns. I want to look at her garden with a fresh sense of who she is. I want to be inspired by the connection we all have to one another -- one gardener to another.
I will get the chance, as will all of you. Feifarek has promised us a Garden Spot tour this spring when her woodland flowers are in bloom.
The feel of it
We visited Jackie Kennedy in the Garden Spot last summer. Her large country garden is serene and beautiful. Her many garden areas each have a special look and appear so coordinated.
Surely she must sketch out these gardens. I asked Kennedy if she plans her gardens or lets them evolve and unfold. ``The second one,'' she quickly answered.
While planning may be helpful, she admitted that she does little of it since plants sometimes do not look well or grow well in the first place they are planted.
``Plants need to be walked around,'' she said, referring to the digging up and replanting of flowers in a better spot in the garden.
Jackie has a lot of open space to ``walk'' her plants. She enjoys the openness of her large garden where her plants can sprawl. She takes advantage of the natural backdrops for her gardens -- the towering trees, a stream and large stones.
She is fond of spicing up her gardens with yard art.
``Whatever I can find,'' is how she describes her search for interesting artifacts. Right now she is in the process of painting a bird house to look like an outhouse. This I'll have to see for myself.
In talking with gardeners I have discovered there are really two kinds -- those who wear gloves and those who do not. Kennedy is a non-glove gardener.
``I like the feel of it,'' she said. ``I'm a toucher. I like to touch the blooms, the soil and just scratch around in the garden to look for plants that are coming up.''
``It's exciting to see beautiful gardens,'' Kennedy said. But flowers are only half the joy of gardening. The other half is all the wonderful people with whom you come into contact.
``You can always talk to someone about gardening,'' she said.
She is right, we all know that. Any gardener can attest to having spent time chatting to someone about gardening. It is a topic that can make gray February seem like spring. It is a topic that can provide you with new ideas, give you the courage to try new plantings and motivate you to experiment in your garden.
The inspiration for beautiful gardens come from within the spirit of the gardener. Yes, you can read the gardening books and learn the ``how-to's.'' You can plan your garden on paper and your garden will look good. But if you want your garden to look beautiful, plan it in your heart as well.
-- Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital and a Douglas County master gardener.