Dec 29, 2008

A Very Wood Day

Look, Ma, no stubs!
Yesterday I spent a lot of time in the company of wood, from pruning my scarlet oak to (finally) stacking up the firewood that used to be our old and decrepit acacia tree.

The stacking was a particularly tedious exercise, puzzling out the best match between the voids in the pile and the weird sizes and shapes of the logs. But somehow it seemed appropriate that the process should be so slow: after all, that tree took probably 30 years to grow. And it occurred to me that gardens are not for the impatient, no matter how "finished" we ever believe they are.

One of the first questions I ask a new client is, "How soon do you want the garden to be grown in?" This is a question of budget as much as time, because there's an exponential relationship between plant size and cost. But even beyond the individual plants, the garden as a whole is a dynamic system, and may not come into its own for five years or more after planting. The new trees and shrubs will create shade where none existed before; flowers can reseed; rhizomes will spread, annuals will come and go, and patterns of water and fertility will change.

All this chaos isn't for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of faith to allow a landscape to do its thing, season after season. Those with something to prove insist on perpetuating an illusion of control, with tightly clipped hedges and perfectly timed blooms. Keeping up appearances makes for a great business; just ask the Stanford Shopping Center, who keeps designer nonpareil Jackie Gray and three full-time gardeners employed to make its environment as lush as it is luxe. But for those of us who are of lesser means, or perhaps more comfortable with nature actually looking and feeling natural, we don't mind the beautiful mess — or the time it takes to evolve.