I have a secret. I love talking to elderly gardeners. I discovered this after years of thinking that what I loved was finding great gardens. For years I would spend my spring and summer weekends prowling the neighborhoods of my city, thinking I was hunting for a new gardening idea that I could use in my own gardens. I started by carrying a notebook and writing down whatever struck me about the garden.
After a while I discovered that my mostly inaccurate guesses as to plant type and my even more inaccurate drawings of the plants were not much help at the nursery. I’ve spent many a frustrated day with an even more frustrated sales clerk trying to figure out what I had seen in the glorious gardens I was trying to imitate. Mostly what I figured out was that the gardening idea I had in my notebook was pretty much going to stay in the notebook unless I could find another way to do this.
Talking to Gardeners
So I began looking for the gardeners at the homes I admired. The first thing I learned was that I don’t like knocking on doors of people I don’t know. I would stop at houses with great gardens, and if the gardener was in the yard I’d go up and see if they wanted to talk. If they weren’t outside, I’d move on. After a while, I began to just look for gardeners. I learned one helpful gardening idea after another, about how to transplant a favorite flower, or what to do for curling leaves, or when to tear out overgrown shrubs instead of pruning them.
From the elderly gardeners I learned even more. The elderly gardeners have weathered so many seasons that they’ve seen just about everything that can happen in the weather world and in the pest world, and if they don’t have an answer they at least have some insight. I can throw nearly any gardening idea at them and they will have a useful opinion.
They also know how to get hard to find plants. Many of them have been gardening since before nurseries were as well stocked as they are today, so they know which plants can grow from cuttings, and how to do it. And they have all been willing to share cuttings with me.
There’s no doubt that the best gardening idea I have ever had was to put down the books and talk to the people who know through experience.