Mary, Mary Quite Contrary How does your Garden Grow? With Silver Bells and Cockle Shells And pretty Maids, all in a Row When I was a little girl and I heard this nursery rhyme, I always had a picture of little girls with milkmaid bonnets on their heads and their legs and feet planted in the soil. The silver bells were imagined as like the little bells we hung on the Christmas trees and the cockle shells were as the shells we found washed up on the beach Now as a grown up gardener, I know these are all common names for delightful perennials. Or do I? The ditty states that Mary was contrary. What can that mean? What does the "contrary" gardener place in the good earth? It is very possible that some gardeners somewhere have literally planted such a garden. I suppose they would use kewpie dolls though and not real maidens.
It is almost impossible to pick up a garden magazine, journal or book about the "modern" garden and not see an illustration of an "architecturalscape" garden full of textures, shapes and colours, with hardly a plant or flower in sight. And I begin to worry that I am so old-fashioned and passe, I am not a gardener anymore, just a grower of [real] things. Shame on me for growing old-fashioned roses, foxgloves and delphiniums. "Off with their Heads" as the Queen of Hearts ordered in Alice in Wonderland No longer may we place on our coffee tables, books full of photos of wonderfully lush gardens to drool over. Put Ken Druse back into the dusty old bookcase at once and place the small, mean and serious tomes that instruct us to never grow water hungry plants [ no matter what your average rain fall is] and to rotary hoe the grass, immediately!
The books inform me that to call myself a "new millennium" gardener, I must turn [with tears running down my cheeks] to an architectural lanscaper who will take me screaming into the twenty-first Century. He/She or both, will allow me to leave the moss-covered boulders but the herbaceous borders must go. One tree with distorted trunks and branches may stay [that has managed on its own to create that romantic and aged look because it was planted one hundred years ago] and we will make a concrete courtyard around the tree, to emphasise the importance of the venerable plant. [Help! More peacock mess to wash every day!] If I don't own an aged tree, I am given a list of nurseries that create "pre-aged" trees and I am assured that I will not miss the silverware that I will have to sell to pay for it. Think of the time I will save not having to clean the knives and forks. I will be able to spend hours sitting on the concrete armchair, in the patio, and contemplate my Queendom.
All those young trees I have planted, so lovingly over the past fourteen years, will make wonderful mulch, chopped up by the electric muncher [There goes the genuine four poster bed] and, I am ordered, those dead shrubs must stay, they will look wonderful spray painted bright blue. I am reprimanded, most severely, for falling in love with so many living plants with wonderful, scented blooms. I am told to choose five species or less and plant these and only these in my "new" garden. I replace the books on my coffee table and sit, worried and perplexed. Rebellion is in my heart. I look over to the hastily gathered lilies that are perfuming the room. I glance out the window and note that the roses are excelling themselves this Autumn. I can already feel that Summer is over. A subtle change of mood is creeping into the garden. Will I note the seasonal changes in my modern garden? Will I hear the birds telling each other that Winter is not too far away? Will I welcome the Autumn rains after the exceptionally dry Summer? What will I do with my time?
No more deadheading, no more weeding, no more secret visits to my favourite Nursery friends, which means no more chats on the seeds collected on the South African trip. No more backaches and will my arthritis vanish with my plants? I will be able to grow my finger nails again and paint them blue, to go with my lurid dead branch sculptures. And what may I call myself? Horticulturist is out, too many water loving plants. I am certainly not a landscaper, someone else created "my" garden. I will be unable to call myself a gardener, I will no longer be able to garden. I know, I shall call myself a "new naturalist" and tell myself that it is ridiculous to feel bored.
I will rename my new articles "The New Naturalist's Garden" and silently have a nervous breakdown because I don?t know what to write anymore, that has not already been written. Gabriel, Gabriel, who is Antagonistic will be the start of my ditty How does your garden grow With concrete seats and bits of iron And bright blue poles all in a row and I will slip into old age with a weeping heart