Words flower, even when garden doesn't

September 10, 2006|By SUSAN REIMER

I AM NOT A GARDEN WRITER. I am a writer who also gardens -- and not very successfully, during this parched summer.

The Garden Writers Association, during a lapse in vigilance, granted me membership, and I courageously packed my bags and headed to its annual meeting, this year in Philadelphia.

The real garden writers tried not to make too much of the fact that a storm struck the hotel just as everyone was arriving. But I felt as if the Original Gardener, the divine intelligence behind Eden, was not happy that phonies like me were trying to hang out with the pros.

(I heard that somewhere in the hotel, a pair of golf-course managers was sacrificed to appease the God of Gardens, but that was just a rumor. And after a summer of drought, it rained, on and off, for the length of the conference. It was as if we were being mocked.)

Anyway, I spent a long weekend immersed in what is called "garden porn." It is a sub-group of "house porn," which is, of course, a sub-group of the real thing. It is all about an absorbing -- some might say unhealthy -- fascination with a certain kind of beauty.

In this case, it is gardens.

Gardens of all descriptions. From densely packed urban gardens no bigger than a sandbox to institutional gardens, like Longwood Gardens' 1,000 acres, which require hundreds of workers and millions of dollars to maintain.

We also visited two gardens that were planted in the remainders of rock quarries. Two. I would not have imagined that there would be one.

We visited all kinds of gardens during our gathering, and we were as reverent as nuns during each tour. And the buses were hushed with awe as we drove away.

Silence is good if you don't know what you are talking about, and I don't. I pretended that the Latin names of the flowers had temporarily escaped me in a kind of brain freeze. "Black-eyed Susan" doesn't cut it with the pros.

But, for me, flowers are like wines. I can never remember their names. I used to think this failure was due to the wine, but flowers disproved that theory.

I am not like my sister Liz, who can kill a new plant in the time it takes to choose a spot for it. But I know just enough about gardening to make me dangerous. This conference served notice that the gaps in my knowledge were greater than I imagined.

The only thing that is certain is that I like to garden, and most plants seem to tolerate my attempts to learn at their expense.

Gardening is honest work. The ache in your limbs is strangely satisfying -- it is like a proof or an affirmation. And the sweat you sweat has a salty, sometimes muddy, smell to it -- so different from the stale, acrid scent of the perspiration that stress produces.

My husband says my gardens look like the gardens of a women with time on her hands. I am not sure how I am supposed to take that. But the truth is, I don't have nearly the time I need, or the time I would like, to garden. Life intrudes on my garden.

The funny thing is, almost all the garden writers in Philadelphia said the same thing. They are so busy writing about gardens that they barely have time to garden.

Said author Jo Ann Gardner, "I look out my window, and I edit my garden in my mind."

Her little confession made me feel like I belonged.

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

To hear an audio clip of this column and others, go to baltimoresun.com / reimer.

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