View the Garden: Finding Yourself in the East End Garden

Traditional pottery gardening

My year is divided into two periods of time, each with its own distinct full-time activities which are not the same at all but are, I have recently realized, related in their intrinsic qualities. Those around me have undoubtedly recognized this. The doer is the last to see.

In the winter, I make art. I have done this in available time slots, around all jobs, in all the years since I left college—a considerable number of years now. There has never been a question of not making art. It is more than a compulsion. It is just an integral part of me. And I have always worked in several media at the same time.

For many years, I was a potter but also worked with fabric. After I stopped making pots, I began to work with very mixed media. My favorite things to use are found objects—from anywhere—things that are no longer useful to the last owner and things that are no longer valuable in our present culture like the decorative needle work that was so carefully crafted and cherished in the past. I often combine cast-off materials with very elegant material like silk.

After I have made the mental transition from gardening to the studio, I am possessed. When one works with very mixed media, one needs a lot of “stuff,” and I have that! I begin to rummage around in the stuff and one item sets the progress in motion. The aspect of my art that I have realized is related to my gardening is that all things become encrusted with the special things that I have collected for many years.While I love Shaker-like simplicity and function-related form, it has no place in my art.

The gardens I have built (that is the way I think of garden-making) that are my favorites also become encrusted. This form is often called English cottage style; gardens that are over-flowing with plants and seem so “natural.” However, they are challenging to design and require a lot of maintenance—thinning and transplanting, seasonal additions, deadheading, tip pruning for height control, staking, cutting back etc. Maintenance needs to be regular and thorough.

I am a plant nerd and am constantly collecting plants; actual plants and online varieties that are unusual enough not to be in our best garden centers. Building gardens from this kind of collection suits my style and the picky kind of maintenance needed can put me into a Zen-like trance.

I do, however, like simply planted pots. My innate tendency to encrust does not apply to them. I like pots and plants to be equally significant with one or two carefully selected plants. Maybe because I was a potter, the pot is as important as the plant. Pots with many plants that eventually cover the pot are not my style. No matter what the variety, I like to keep the plant clean and well-shaped, which requires careful maintenance.

Well, there it is—my big wave of self-awareness. I also enjoy taking care of gardens designed by others no matter the style and do work in several very beautiful ones. The Zen thing happens for me in these gardens, too.

My crew began working for the season a few weeks ago in the cold—just not able to wait any longer. Grasses needed to be cut down, roses pruned and last year’s perennial foliage removed. We will be at this for several weeks and beginning vegetable garden planting. Had the weather co-operated, we would already have peas, radishes, chards, lettuces, kales, fava beans and carrots in the ground.

Jeanelle Myers is a professional gardener, landscaper and consultant. For gardening discussion you can call her at 631-434-5067.

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