Garden for the present is good advice from a great gardener

Erin Schanen

When I’m craving a strong dose of horticultural immersion, the kind that you almost never find in gardening magazines, I pick up one of Christopher Lloyd’s many books.

It would be difficult to find a more prolific garden writer than Lloyd, who used his lifetime of experience and experimentation at England’s famous Great Dixter to inform the millions of words he published in books and newspaper columns. He died in 2006, but his books are still pored over by gardeners around the world.

I revisit Lloyd’s writing not just to be forced into refreshing my knowledge of botanical names — very few common names appear, and they’d be of little use to an American gardener if they did since common names vary widely from place to place — but also to absorb Lloyd’s philosophy. That’s not what his books are about, of course, but I find the insights into his approach to gardening to be more applicable than many of the horticultural practices he wrote about 40 years ago.

Lloyd shared strong opinions and was unapologetic about them, a quality I appreciate at a time when garden writers feel a need to be ultra-inclusive so as to not turn off any potential fresh gardening blood.

It’s that awkward time of year when I feel nearly desperate to be gardening again, and at the same time I find myself fretting that once again I’ve bit off more than I can chew in the coming year’s garden and wondering if it’s time to start scaling back. The easy-care nature of shrubs is starting to look very appealing and I get tired just thinking about the work I’ve created for myself not just three months from now but a decade from now.

Leave it to Lloyd to offer blunt advice on such a quandary. “We must have some sort of a conscience about the welfare of our gardens but beyond that, worry is inclined to lead you into a hopeless frame of mind where you feel that you’re never going to cope,” he wrote in “The Adventurous Gardener.”

He has a point. If I dwelled on how much work I create for myself when I grow hundreds of plants from seed or create new gardens, I wouldn’t enjoy gardening nearly as much.

It occurred to me recently that I probably won’t see many of the trees I plant this spring reach their full glory because I’ll have left this garden, one way or another, by then. Does that make the trees any less worth planting or any less exciting to plant and tend until they can manage on their own?

I’ve talked with gardeners who start “downsizing” their gardens well before they need to in preparation for the day when they aren’t physically able to care for them, and I wonder if they enjoy their garden less during this in-between time.

Lloyd had thoughts on this too.

“You shouldn’t anticipate trouble,” he wrote. “As long as you are happy in the present it is better not to look ahead.”

And if the owner of one of his country’s greatest gardens managed to put the blinders on and garden for the present, then so can I.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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