Fortunately it’s seldom quite that bad, especially in early fall, when a colorful coating of fallen leaves covers all your sins and the dimmer light and blended earth tones make the whole thing look like an old
photograph in which the plants have died.
Gardening is an endless revision involving pulling wall down and carting the stone off to build new walls somewhere else, uprooting plants and taking them for a ride around the yard in a wheelbarrow, replacing
the old walls with better walls, thinking what to do with logs, thinking what to do with the yellow jackets that have moved into the logs and are lazily hovering around looking for somebody to kill, and digging unintelligible holes, etc. I broke a shovel this year. That’s how you know you have an old shovel.
When digging holes, I like to imagine I might find something in the hole that I would want to have. This almost never happens by itself. Years ago I found half of a 19th-century mule shoe. It had been down
there for quite a while. Historically our yard was once a tobacco field. Before that, it was a climax forest. Maples and walnuts are coming back nicely.
As a gardener, you can arrange matter so years later you have the pleasure of finding cool things in your holes. I just tore down a wall that I had built some years back. I may have mentioned it. The backfill of the wall included seashells from old beach trips, discarded fossils, parts of a World War One bayonet scabbard, some very mysterious gaming tokens made of colored glass, and a broken inkwell. There is no telling what else I may find as I finish moving the rest of the dirt. I'll want to remember to seed the new bed, which will be 18 inches higher and a foot wider, with new broken stuff and other curiosities for myself or other future diggers to marvel at. With just a little foresight and a selective memory, everyone can be his own
archeologist. When you consider how much plants cost these days—how much dirt costs for that matter—it would be reasonable to throw some actual money into the ground too. I would recommend coins in that
The real mess is on the east side of the house, where making room for newly divided iris rhizomes led to walls and holes and pavement and shrubs. For the moment these appear to have been randomly situated in a program of deliberate uglification. I foresee a cobbled walkway flanked by raised stone beds of irises and dwarf Japanese shrubs planted two deep, leading down a gentle slope from pavement and stairs connecting the current iris beds in front of the house. The entire garden plan may appear to have been inspired by
the lovely British works at Ypres in 1917, but it wasn’t really inspired by anything at all.
You’re never really just gardening for yourself. For one thing, the insects and lizards and snakes and toads that will move into this—that are already moving into it before it is even finished—need a good place to live out of reach of lawnmowers and deadly chemicals. No one appreciates your work more than they do. But they are strangers to gratitude--they have their own agenda, sometimes including their own chemical
warfare. Given the choice between a spiny oak slug caterpillar and a wasp, I recommend the wasp. But the price of coexistence is never too high. Regarding insects, here’s a link to a great site for bug identification:
No matter how wet and frozen winter gets, in the minds of the gardener it’s always May. Everything I’m doing now—all the autumn tasks—are for next May and the return of the long days. That’s necessary but it’s also important to stop being a gardener sometimes and just be a witness as everything sheds its summer form—I almost said its outward form.