Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Lessons of a Third Third Garden

I know many people who relish their Third Third because it gives them more time in their gardens … and their gardens reflect that. I love their gardens. I go on tours of their gardens. I marvel and compliment and ooh and envy. I write down names of plants. I buy them.

Then I go home to my dirt.

I was going to wax funny about my garden difficulties, my scrawny plants, my fight against invasives, my slugs. This was going to be a ha-ha-ha-woe-is-me kind of blog post. But as I thought about my garden, my perspective shifted in a very Third Third way. My garden was echoing some of the lessons and gifts my Third Third has given me. See if you know what I mean:
  • When I water a plant, I feel it drink. If you don’t know this feeling, I can’t describe it. I am nourishing something and enabling it to live.

  • Every flower has its moment of glory. Yes, mostly my flowers have only moments, but they’re still glorious. The Oriental poppy is big and bright till it isn’t. The peony is spectacular till it droops. The daisies are a sea of white till they’re scraggly. But they all have their moments.

  • Every now and then, there’s a surprise: the daffodils that have come up for 25 years and never bloomed produced one bloom this year! I don’t know why. Maybe it just needed more time.

  • For years, on tours at the Alaska Botanical Garden, I’d taste the sorrel and want to add it to salads. Last year, I finally found a plant for sale and bought it. This year, I noticed it’s back! I am getting this gift again! I didn’t know it would come back, but it did.

  • Years ago, after Sophie and I read Miss Rumphius, Louise and Richard called to say they were digging up their lupine, would Sophie want to come by and get some plants. Miss Rumphius committed to making the world more beautiful, so she planted lupine everywhere. Every time Sophie’s lupine grows, blossoms, and spreads, the world is more beautiful.
  • The back of the house has giant white columbine. One year, one plant produced bright purple flowers. How did that happen? Some years, there are yellow columbine, some times purple again. It is a mystery.

  • My flowers are scrawny. They just aren’t … exuberant. Except one area where a flock of pansies somehow got happy and come back every year. Again, it’s a total mystery how that happens. I don’t know how to repeat it, but it just repeats itself. My happy flock of pansies.

  • I let mint grow wherever it wants (within reason). It fills in my blank spaces and gives me fresh mint for salads. It is pure reward for no effort.

  • One parsley plant solves the problem of needing a bit of parsley for a recipe but not having to buy a whole bunch at the store (which will only go bad).

  • When the lilac is in bloom, every step outside is filled with fragrance. I remember that I have a sense of smell.
A long time ago, I took a lobelia basket class at the Alaska Botanical Garden. We lined a wire basket with black plastic and poked about 35 holes in it. We took a little lobelia start out of its little pot and rolled a piece of plastic around the plant, leaving the root ball hanging. We pushed the plastic tube through the hole in the basket from the inside and tugged till the dirt clump stopped it. (Or till you broke it; accidents happen.)

So then you end up with a basket that looks like a bunch of frightened lobelias. In the top, you plant yellow marigolds.

Eventually, they grow and get bushy and – supposedly – you end up with the giant Alaska-flag-colors, blue-and-gold hanging planters that decorate Fourth Avenue downtown.

Mine don’t ever get like that, but they do get pretty. So every year, I re-use my original baskets from years ago and make two more. They are my big effort/big reward gardening victory. They hang by my front door, and I notice them, pay attention to them, marvel at them every time I come and go. Ah, that’s what a garden does!


  1. I like the way you have found the value in the individual plants in your garden, rather than looking for it in the garden as a whole.

  2. Oh, I didn't even realize that's what I was doing. Now it makes sense. I was wondering why my attitude was improving about it.... Thanks!

  3. Oh oh! I believe that perhaps the lupine which Richard and Louise shared with you and Sophie (after reading Miss Rumphius) may have once begun in my own garden, down the street from my dear neighbors! I recall transplanting the wild lupine in ~ the 80's. If big, they are finicky, but we learned to move them while very small. Once re-rooted, they are a beautiful part of our Alaskan summer. Thanks for sharing all these garden treasures!

    1. Oh, this is a wonderful addition to the lupine story. That practically makes you Miss Rumphius!


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