A more honest view of the garden

I have one knee buried in the dirt and the other comfortably resting on a surprisingly smooth rock.

I’m profusely sweating with drips of said sweat some how finding their way to the inside of my eyelids.

I’m slightly shaking from too much coffee but then shaking more worrying about my shaking.

I’m strategically using my broad back to block the sun from shining on the Astilbe below so I can snap this picture without blinding sunlight.

Why the hell am I doing this again? Oh yeah, to capture that red stem up close and demonstrate how that lends additional interest to this perennial.


I first lay flat on my back on the front sidewalk. It’s 2:45 and my son’s bus will arrive home soon so I have to get this done quickly. I slowly raise my torso so I’m only a few inches off of the scalding hot stone that lines my front walkway. The abs are getting a killer workout, but I barely have enough strength to push the appropriate button on the camera. Thank God I pulled it off, because I got this gem.

Why is this a gem again? That’s right, I wanted to show how these Carex appalachica have a beautifully airy quality, especially when you can view those oh so slight seed heads/flowers.


I try to run at least twice a week. It isn’t a run as much as it is a lot of sprinting and walking. I learned a while back that high intensity intervals are generally better for you than steady state running. So I jog for five minutes and then alternate between 30 second sprints and a minute walk. The entire thing takes close to 40 minutes. I take the exact same path every time. I don’t why these details are necessary, but it’s too late, I’ve already given them to you.

I’m not going to lie, these runs are dangerous. It’s in the middle of nowhere and if I were to ever be attacked or even fall, no one will locate me for days.

Every time I take this turn, I wonder what evil lies on the other side.

Gunshots from the local shooting range keep me running fast and there is a high probability that I may be mistaken for an intruder by paranoid neighbors.

There is a reason for the build-up here, I promise.

By the time I am done with my run, I’m physically and emotionally shot. I can barely walk by the time I make it back to my street.

But there is one final hurdle and this one is the worst of all.

I have to do my best to not view my garden from the street. I’ve gotten really good at staring at the ground until I am at the front door. But every once in a while I make the mistake and take a glance. I’m already exhausted and sore and angry after the run, but the reality of seeing my garden from afar pushes me over the edge.


I realize that the majority of the photos on this blog are close-ups of the garden. That is the best way for you the reader to truly understand the attributes of a plant. It’s also the easiest way for me to make things look all pretty. The best way for me to present my garden in an appealing way. I can hide the fact that most of my perennials start growing late in the season and therefore lead to many open spots. I can hide the warts, and the air conditioner and the not-neatly-spooled-hose.

The close-ups also allow me to highlight plant details that differentiate the more unique and dynamic ones from the mundane. Hence the need for the red stemmed photo and the grass close-up presented at the beginning of this post. I love these details and have made it the focus of this blog for 7+ years now.

But my garden as a whole, that is a different animal.

This isn’t a “woe is me” complaint, but my garden and property is large and open. It provides limitless opportunities which is exciting, but also crippling and overwhelming. The vastness more often than not, dwarfs the garden; the reason why I duck my head after a run. Denial. 

I can be in the garden and be proud of all that I’ve constructed the past decade or so, but once I take steps back and look at it in relation to the property, I become disheartened and yearn for a small and intimate space.

So with that in mind, I’m going to present a few photos of my garden after taking a walk backwards. I’m not quite ready to show a view from the street, it’s too soon for that. This is just the first step in my rehabilitation.

There will be no further comments to accompany the photos, just an opportunity for me to allow these to be out in internet land and be comfortable with it.

A truer and more honest perspective of my garden.

I’m scared shitless but happy to put it out there.

 

 

 

20 thoughts on “A more honest view of the garden

  1. Saurs

    Really interesting (and revealing!) post. I find most garden blawggers conform, both in their horticultural choices and the subjects they select to blawg about, to one or the other school of thought: micro-wise plant geekery (rare form! obscure seed difficult to collect and germinate! brand-new cultivar! recently discovered subspecies!) or macro-wise landscape as a single, cooperative unit cultivated and improved and tweaked over time.

    Irrespective of how professionally involved they are, outside of their home, in horticulture, I think home gardeners, particularly those who didn’t inherit a design but created it themselves, tend to have these types of scaling issues because they’re blinded by familiarity and subjectivity. Living adjacent to our gardens brainwashes us. Viewing them from a different vantage point can feel threatening and disorienting, sometimes even disappointing. And doing so also tends to reveal any flaws we might have overlooked. It’s an understandable phenomenon and in my experience it’s really common, especially amongst the more conscientious. After years of taking the same photos of my garden from the same spot, over and over again, I’ve recently tried changing perspectives (height, distance, time of day, getting on a stool so I can see what tall people observe when they’re visiting, etc) and it’s yielded some useful information for me, namely that my plant collection habit is crowding things out and that I’m probably going to have to make some cultural changes to keep everything healthy. So, the opposite of your problem*.

    Hosting a tour is another useful tool, of course. Having fifteen different galleries of your garden from fifteen different perspectives is, to put it mildly, quite overwhelming. But very enlightening, too.

    *For the record, the macro shots I see above are awesome and demonstrate, to me, a skilled and subtle hand. There are many versions of “honesty” in gardening and I appreciate how you showcase individual species for your readers. Thank you for that, and for your bravery here! I understand the fear completely. The pleasure of owning a private garden is that we get to dwell among the specimens and admire and appreciate them for all their minute idiosyncrasies and little surprises as they establish themselves, acclimate, and then age.

    1. jmarkowski Post author

      Saurs – I’m going to print this off and carry it with me at all times. Thank you so much for the thoughtful and enlightening reply!!

  2. Kate

    I’m not seeing a problem here. It all looks pretty and balanced and thriving and colorful. Those magazine photos are always of the garden at its peak. Off peak, it looks just like these. I often wonder about the Oudolf grass gardens – how do they look in May? How about over the winter? All we see are the September photos. So, props to you for being daringly honest, and you are going to have to try harder than that to draw gasps of horror from us.

    1. jmarkowski Post author

      Kate – I’ve always thought the same about Oudolf’s garden. In fact, my garden definitely peaks in September when the grasses fill in. Now I need to improve April through August. Ha.

  3. Misti

    One thing I chafe at in my own garden is the garden path because it is constantly weedy. It has me rethinking putting down the decomposed granite there and maybe we should have left it grass and just weedeated the path as the season went on. Of course, I also have to contend with my husband who also has an opinion on this so two gardeners in the house can be troublesome! 😉 And you are right, different perspectives offer something nice. I like to get up against my fence sometimes and take a few shots, to see what it looks like that way.

    I’ve got a few plants i know need to be moved—just need to do it.

    It looks good. Don’t beat yourself up and start looking at the garden when you get home from your run. It might give you some ideas on where to start focusing. It’s like looking at photos of yourself and only seeing your flaws—no one else sees them (usually!).

    1. jmarkowski Post author

      Very true Misti, the street view is overwhelming but if I can just chunk it out a piece at a time, I’ll be ok. I think.

  4. Mary Maxwell

    Your garden is beautiful as it is. Nature is not always perfect and I don’t necessarily like seeing gardens that are clipped to within an inch of their life or one with plants lined up like soldiers. I do appreciate a very small knot garden, but I’d much rather see a garden with plants that flow and wave in the breeze. Don’t beat yourself up after your run. Look at your garden as you return and appreciate it as it is and all of the hard work you have put into it. A garden is never finished nor is a person.

    1. jmarkowski Post author

      Thank you Mary! It is a battle, a fun battle and one I hope never ends.

  5. mary Hatton

    A garden is a living, evolving entity. How can it be ‘perfect’ ? What would be left to imagine if it were? Weed on. Plant on Dream on!

    1. jmarkowski Post author

      Spot on Mary. I always keep going, just certain days when I grab a different perspective that I get knocked back a bit.

  6. Chuck Rasmussen

    Close ups or panoramic , your creativity with landscaping, your excellence with your kids, your love for baseball, your work, your writing, it’s extremely valuable. Thanks for posting. I look forward to this every week man.
    Chuck

  7. Alice

    John, I love your sense of humor, your style of writing and your garden. You know, we garden to please ourselves, not anyone else. One thing I always wanted to accomplish was a surprise when showing people my garden. Having a small lot and wanting to use all the yard for plants. the way I did it is using the house. The front yard is shady with greenery and not much color except the bulbs in spring. Japanese maples and hostas and other shade plants rule the summer. Walking up the driveway you discover the back yard is sunny and full of colorful flowers and my collection of clematis. It is enclosed with a fence to obscure the neighbors yards, sheds and garages.

    My first thought for your garden was to plant a row of burning bushes to shield your garden from the street. They don’t get to tall and would be outstanding in the fall. Anyone invited to see your garden would then be surprised!

    1. jmarkowski Post author

      Thank you so much Alice and thanks for the suggestion! I’ll keep pushing to “get it right” and yes, the garden is truly for me.

  8. Joy

    I have a large garden also and sometimes get overwhelmed with caring for it. It can’t be pruned and clipped or even weeded like the surrounding 5000 sq ft lots. There just aren’t that many hours in the day. But I have room for so many possibilities that I wouldn’t if I had a small space. The possibilities are what keep me excited about working on my garden. Your garden is young. Beautiful gardens take time to evolve. The beauty is in the process.

    1. jmarkowski Post author

      Joy – I found myself nodding yes to everything you said. I need to come back to this comment each time I feel sorry for myself and my “too large garden”. Thank you for this!

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