Submitted by Candy Venning
How it looks; you standing in your garden or a park staring at the sky.
How it feels: a small bird you’ve wanted to see for ages just swooped past. Mid-sentence you track the flight and are swept up in their journey along the treetops. Suddenly tiny yourself, feeling at one with the world, an incredible sense of smallness via amplified emotion and lightness, tied in with: amusement, unexpectedness and playfulness.
Studies show we can train ourselves to feel this way in a place or with an activity. For your practice, I highly recommend the yard or long woodland walks for this excellent delight. To me there’s an infinity connected to the rhythm of life, a butterfly wing, an ant carrying a leaf, the Monarch caterpillars you’ve been hoping to see since you planted the milkweed that took over your whole yard… These are the things that drive me to keep improving my garden, well beyond ‘pretty’. Now, if only I could ‘Awe and Wonder’ the goutweed away.
Although many have assured me, my very ‘in progress’ garden, (picture a construction site made only of branches and stumps) ‘will be wonderful’ – will it be wonderful to them? Sometimes I worry no one will see what I see…wait, perhaps I’ll give tours? ‘Here you see the mighty Pagoda Dogwoods and with them the delicate Penstemon with whom the hummingbirds converse. Over here you see the Pitcher plant I have kept alive for an entire year in a frequently used bird bath, aka, plastic plant tray. Oh, and folks, step right up for a wander along this living fence and its ability to confound all who see it, past the new Fernery below the pines and exit through the Ninebark arches’. Should be fun!
Using a palette of keystone Ontario native plants (and a few must have perennials from elsewhere IE Siberian Iris, Peony, Oakleaf Hydrangea and Acanthus) I’ve given an intense amount of thought to creating the required, wee ecosystems within my yard. I’ve embraced the downspouts of my neighbour so that the shade loving, moist craving, woodland species can be happy. I’ve created a sunny meadow by cutting away Norway Maples, shredding them into mulch pathways and used their logs as mini retaining walls to hide leaf piles (so they can secretly break down, away from prying eyes, into awesome soil and not blow away)
I’ll hope that uncertainty is a proponent of humility – all gardening has failure and success – there are always reasons things work or don’t – it’s not always something you did or didn’t do, plus nature is patient, you can fix it. Mostly, I want to see birds and butterflies. As long as I keep the native plants happy and the birdbath topped up, they keep coming so I feel it will all work out.
Some consider complexity a signal of authenticity – perhaps part of the reason many of us feel more ‘real’ or aligned when witnessing the authentic complexity of a forest, a tree, a leaf, a mitochondrion, a meadow, a …you get my meaning. Wherever you choose to get ‘high’ on wonder and awe, remember that it’s not always about ‘pretty’. Drink deeply and often, because, like a reliable font of all that is good gardens are complex, and authentic, can be full of amusement, unexpectedness and playfulness as well as Wonder and Awe.