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Ready For My Close-Up

Posted by on January 27, 2009 in Garden


On most days, the only way I get through my life is by
reminding myself that it's okay to have very relaxed standards about pretty
much everything. The whole house needs to be vacuumed, but it's not as if Good
Housekeeping is coming over to do an inspection later this afternoon, and
besides, nobody ever died wishing they'd spent more time running the vacuum
cleaner. So that can wait.

I spend my days in grubby jeans and
oversized sweatshirts that conceal several layers of T-shirts and, on some
days, flannel pajamas, but then again, Vanity Fair is not likely to show up
around lunchtime for a portrait. So I'm okay for another day.

Naturally, I use this approach in
the garden as well. The oxalis and wild onions are coming up as they do every
winter; several overgrown shrubs are in desperate need of a good whacking; and
the latest round of transplanting and dividing has been postponed because we
haven't had the rain that makes transplanting such an easy job. (Not that I'm
complaining about the sunshine. Oh, no.) But who cares? It's not as if Sunset
is sending a photographer over.

Except they are. This week.

This is not really as big a deal as
it sounds. I wrote a little essay for their April issue, and they want a little
picture of me holding some flowers. When they first told me that they wanted to
send a photographer over to get that picture, I didn't even think about the
condition of my garden. We were only talking about a head shot, a few open
blooms, and some kind of blurry generic background. No problem.

But then, questions were asked.

Could I send a few snapshots of my
garden for the photographer to consider? Is there easy access to an electrical
outlet for additional outdoor lighting? Not to worry; it is, of course,
understood that the garden is out of season.

Yeah, my garden is more than out of
season. It’s out of sorts, out of pocket, out of resources, out of time, and
terribly understaffed. It is only remotely Sunset-worthy for a few heady weeks
in June, when everything blooms at once in a crazy cacophony of color that
could charitably be described with remarks like, “Well, it certainly has a lot
of personality.”

I realize that I should be setting
an example for others by having a garden that looks great year-round. And I
even know how to do that—I really do. I swear. I can walk around my garden and
diagnose its problems and come up with perfectly reasonable and
easy-to-implement plans to fix them.

For instance. Planting anything in
masses makes it look better. In the front yard, I’ve begun a process of
rounding up scattered plants of the same type and grouping them together. It’s
easy enough to do, and it really does work. If you like some particular plant,
no matter what it is, buy three or five small ones rather than one big one,
clear out enough space to hold all of them at their mature size, and plant.
Trust me, they’ll look great.

I know what you’re going to say.
When you decide to buy that lavender or ornamental grass or ceanothus or
whatever it is, you’re not yet sure that you really do like it enough to plant
five of them. Maybe it will turn out to be too tender or petite or leggy or
blackspot-ridden to work in your garden. So you’ll just get one for now and see
how it goes, and if you really like it, next year you’ll go buy four more and
plant a mass of them.

See? That’s what I always tell
myself, too. Doesn’t really work for me either.

There’s also the idea of using
paths, sculpture, or some kind of hardscape to pull a jumbled garden together.
You can plant a meadow of wild grasses and asters in your front yard, but if
you put a nice crisp brick walkway through it, it’s like you’re saying, “I
meant to do this.” It’s amazing what a little contrast can do. I’ve also seen
gardens that are a real mishmash except for the sculpture. Repeat the same
piece of sculpture over and over in the garden, and you’ve got a theme. And by
‘sculpture’ I don’t mean marble sculptures of David; I’ve seen toy windmills,
hubcaps, homemade square cement planters, and even bowling balls mounted on
copper pipes used as repeating elements in a garden. The repetition is a kind
of structure, and breaks up the chaos just enough to make the chaos more

And then there is the entirely
sensible idea of planting something that will look good year-round. I’m a
sucker for a flashy plant. I like to see a show. I’ll put up with nine months
of dormancy just to watch something go nuts in the summer. But don’t think I
fail to see the point in year-round, sturdy, reliable green shrubs and trees
and groundcovers. I do. I just don’t fall madly in love with them, and for that
reason, they don’t get to come home with me.

So that leaves me with an entirely
unphotographable garden and a photographer on the way. I posed a question to my
Facebook friends about whether I should scramble to pull it together in the
days I have left, knowing that last-ditch efforts in the garden usually look
like last-ditch efforts and don’t fool anyone. One of my friends replied, “Just
keep it real, pour yourself a drink, and don't do a damned thing.”

That’s the kind of advice I’m
actually capable of following.  Cheers,


  1. I’ll raise a glass to you too, Amy. Have a great time with the shoot. I only wish I subscribed to Sunset so I could read your article and see the picture. Will there be an online link to it?

  2. Amy, I loved your article in last week’s Northcoast Journal. My winter garden looks very, very similiar to yours! Good luck with the Sunset shoot. I am sure it will be lovely.

  3. Aaaaaaand? How did it go Miss Amy? Did the photographer get some pics that he was happy with?
    And the all-important question – was it a gin martini? It’s gotta be too early for the jalapeno basil gin and tonic thingummy you were going on about last summer (I am SO trying that this year).

  4. Love the honesty about your garden. It is so refreshing.

  5. Very cool, Amy! I’ll keep an eye out for the article.
    I had this same panic last September (only they weren’t photographing me–just the plants, thank god), and I ended up doing a lot of frantic running around, much of it in the dark after work. It turned out all I needed was one kick-ass container planting–they’ve got special fuzzy lenses that blur everything else into a gauzy haze that looks very well-groomed. You could do one glorious little pot to pose next to….

  6. This is fabulous! We all need to be reminded to update OUR personal photos. ON that note… I am heading off to get my hair done for some of my own image updates.
    Warm Wishes from a Midwest Garden

  7. I made the leap last year and bought 7 prairie dropseed. Put them under a weeping white birch, so when people walk by they feel sad… eh. I don’t. I have plans to by at least 7 more–this is the only part of the garden, out front, that is going to have swatch of like plants. Out back, with the sculptures, it’s a free for all. Where “I drink.” And “don’t do a damned thing” planning wise. Except fret about the front.

  8. My garden is a hodgepodge. I don’t deny it. And it’s really small too. But I can get good pictures by going ’round with my camera framing various views to get the interesting (or at least not weird) plant combinations. Then I snap the pictures and, with my little digital camera, can immediately delete the really bad ones. So find the good combinations and park yourself there for the shoot.
    And if Sunset were coming to photograph my yard, an unlikely event, I’d be working on it at midnight.

  9. I love your blog, you have a sense of humor. I love gardening and I neglect sometime some house chores to be in the garden though my husband does not like it.
    Keep up with your good humor, it will help you with Your health

  10. I wish I had your sense of relaxation and freedom! I have a full time job, 2 young kids, and on-line gardening business (just started with the hopes of being able to become a stay at home mom), a hobby farm, a husband that works nights & my six year old is on a traveling t-ball team. Oh…the garden??? To bad you can’t harvest weeds!!
    Thank you for the laugh & reality check!!!

  11. Love gardening and start planning on planting more veggies this year