During the winter of 2020-2021, I began reading garden blogs on the days it was too wet to go outside. Something resonated. I realized that I also have a similar dialogue going on in my head while gardening and perhaps starting my own blog would be useful way to share those thoughts with others. A blog would also serve as a place to take notes, a record if you will, that I could refer back to when I need to remind myself of something. Lastly, I also thought I might have a different perspective on gardening, one that hasn’t been well represented, or perhaps is missing altogether. But, to be honest, I have fully defined what that perspective is yet. I am finding out that blogging is an ongoing, deeply reflective, and personal process that has changed already in the short time I have been doing this.
I identify as, in part, a horticulturist with specializations in plant propagation and plant diseases. I come to gardening with experience in identifying, propagating, growing, and caring for plants. I have gardened in the Chihuahuan Desert of New Mexico (zone 7 to 8), the hardwood forests of central Wisconsin (zone 4 at the time), the Finger Lakes region of New York (zone 5), and now the Pacific Northwest (solid zone 7 where I live, definitely not 8 or 9!). I love almost all plants: there are very few that I don’t like. I’ve grown tropicals, cacti and succulents, houseplants, deciduous and broadleaf evergreen trees and shrubs, orchids, grasses, conifers, ferns, mosses, alpines, carnivorous plants, etc. I am a plant collector at heart with a broad interest in everything. With all of that interest, I have seen my share of death and destruction. I would guess that probably 75% of what I have planted, has died. So, why do I keep doing it?
Simply put, I can’t imagine anything else. I eat, drink, breathe, think, and dream about plants. It’s my job, my life, my passion. It’s also an obsession, and the rewards of the 25% that survive and thrive outshine the 75% that are lost to the pages of history.
You might think all of this experience would make me a fantastic gardener with an absolutely drop dead gorgeous garden, but you’d be wrong. It’s crusty, imperfect, frayed at the edges. There’s going to be junk in the background of some pictures. There is also probably going to be a general lack of award winning, magazine worthy photography. I have no practical design experience and often end up with a jumble of plants that I bought at a whim because I fell in love with them. This means, practically, that I am constantly cramming plants in together that are going to end up too close together and too big for their spots. The overplanting leads to more garden than I can effectively maintain, which causes me to constantly run from one garden task to the next, never catching up, and hoping vainly to reach the revered state of garden perfection. I also have no experience in hardscape installation (pathways, raised beds, etc). I don’t have the time or money or energy or experience to do those things perfectly, which means that some of the hardscaping, is, um, rustic? …and, I am often a little disappointed in the results. But, they do function and they do allow me to continue with my main passion – the plants…..And, sometimes, despite it all and when I am lucky, something really beautiful happens.
My garden site is a northeastern facing slope on almost pure potter’s clay with a heavy infestation of common horsetail. This means that the soil is a sticky mass of yuckamuck in the winter and a solid, dry block of cracked concrete that you can chip a shovel on in the summer. You could literally shape the clay, fire it, and have a piece of pottery at the end of the day. The type of soil that is useful for the dining room table, but not so much for gardening. It also means that I am forever pulling wheelbarrows full of horsetail so that I can actually see the plants that I put there. Couple that with the fact that we are slightly higher and colder than much of the Willamette Valley and that we get a lot of wind and wet blowing in from the Pacific coast, and this ends up being a relatively harsh site for gardening. The plants that end up surviving here are true garden stalwarts.
This blog will also address my naturalist tendencies. I have a broad interest in nature, that includes wildflowers, fungi, and animals.
I am deeply indebted to those first two blogs that I spent that first winter reading from beginning to end, the miserable gardener and the danger garden. Thank you for the inspiration. I also thank my friend, Geppetto (not her real name), and my husband, L, who both encouraged me to start a blog. Other blogs, that I also find inspirational include In Defense of Plants and 10,0000 Things of the PNW for their more scientific take on things and Amateur Bot-ann-ist for openly addressing critical, personal and political issues in horticulture.
Why am I blogging? I want to share:
- My passion for plants and nature
- My successes – which plants thrive, how do I maintain them, and my accidental hardscaping and design successes
- My failures – my mistakes, what didn’t work, which plants failed and why, hardscaping disasters, and overly assertive plants
- Plant maintenance tips, including information about plant propagation, plant diseases and insect pests
- Plant profiles – going into depth about the plants that catch my interest
- Nature vignettes – birds, insects, other things that happen in the garden and the surrounding landscape. Gardening is about more than just the plants.
- Dealing with the frustration of perfectionism in gardening, learning to relax and let go, living in the moment and enjoying the chaos.
Why Garden Curmudgeon?
It comes from poking a bit of fun at myself. I garden as a way to get out and enjoy nature, and to get some peace and quiet. Unfortunately, I often get in my own way. As I garden, sometimes I will start ruminating about unresolved problems, or about the large number of things that I need to do, or I will zero in on the irritating, non-soothing sounds of humanity that surround me. In other words, I focus on the negative. That leads to anxiety and frustration, which in turn can lead to feeling ill-tempered and grumpy. By calling myself Garden Curmudgeon, it reminds myself of why I am really doing all of this and it helps me to refocus on what is truly important.
Why Botanica Chaotica?
It’s my way of saying that this blog comes from a disciplined, well-ordered, plant science perspective that must somehow come to grips with a never ending onslaught of critters, weeds, weather, and diseases that chip incessantly at everything I have ever done (Dark, no? But it’s fine, really). In just a few months’ or years’ time, much of what I have accomplished will be gone if it isn’t maintained. As soon as I stop putting in the energy and time to keep this garden going, entropy will take it away. The horsetail and poplar leaves will smother, the deer and rabbits devour, the next homeowners will rip out and mow it over, and only a few little bits and pieces will remain here and there. Echoing. Time marches over all of us. We are but tiny ants waiving our little tarsal claws against an eternity and an ever expanding universe that will erase this all in the end. But I still do it all anyway, because in my opinion it is still worth it. Every little bit.
The universe is beautiful. We should cherish it. Come join me.