Many years ago I wrote an article entitled “Beans or Beach?” – bemoaning the difficulty that serious gardeners have with leaving their gardens like normal people and taking vacations.

“If it is a year that we have decided to visit our family in California the question is always “when”?  Seedlings are started in February, the Cold Frame Shuffle is scheduled for March, and the rest of the spring/summer months from April through September? Forget about it.  The fall is about the harvest, and I’m hardly likely to cosset and cajole three hundred pounds of vegetables only to leave them hanging come October.  November and December, January and February are peak flying times [read: expensive], and also happen to be peak winter storm times for housesitters sitting at the end of a two-mile gravel road without electricity.”

What if you come back and no one sprayed for deer?

But it wasn’t just about what you missed, I pointed out in the article.  It’s what you came back to.

“Even a late summer’s week at the beach is a concern to those of us who till the soil and squish lawn grubs with gusto.  Our Mid-Atlantic climate acts like a magical elixir to weeds, grass, vines and all things green.  Leave for a week, and an Amazonian jungle greets you upon your return.”

The situation hasn’t changed much since I wrote those words.  If anything, it’s technically gotten harder to leave, as I have more seedlings, more plantings, and more once-a-year-can’t-miss things than I’ve ever had.

For gardeners who fall asleep dreaming of new planting schemes, it’s incredibly hard to detach from views we have spent the previous year working to improve, even when we desperately need a vacation – or could benefit from seeing other people’s views at that time of year to teach us something about our own. But we must.

Some plants can handle the absence of the resident gardener better than others…

The garden will always be there, but the ability to travel and spend good time with the people in our lives that we love, may not be. We simply mustn’t let the minute by minute of our gardens keep us from enjoying important or spontaneous major moments when the opportunities arise.

It’s not as if I don’t still struggle with this conundrum. This year as I packed to go away for a long overdue unplugging in parts sunny and foreign, I found myself wistfully scanning the landscape charting those lost moments, rather than [rightfully] thinking about all I would gain in new experiences (not least of all, the experience of time away from my laptop and phone).

Just as I was starting to feel almost resentful that I had to pull out my sunscreen, sandals, and linen trousers when I really needed and wanted to get the Taxodium transplanted, I glanced at the barrel sitting next to it and had a flashback of its three sister barrels bobbing down a raging, river-covered field three years ago.

Flooded garden

That day I was handed a large dose of perspective when a flood ripped through our valley and carried many plants and garden paraphernalia to new forever homes down the river to Georgetown (I hope they’re using the croquet set).

The flood came right after two weeks of killing myself to get everything planted, which I had indeed accomplished, but to the detriment of fully enjoying a rare visit by my two sisters and nieces and nephew.  The flood and subsequent devastation and clean up taught me that, no matter how hard you work, and how many sacrifices you make, and how bravely you work through the back spasms and think you’re tough and wonderful, it can all be taken away tomorrow.

Reflecting on that reality has an incredibly sobering affect. It’s allowed me to find time in my schedule for important things – not because there was time to find, but because there was time that needed to be made. That has meant delegation, some strategic planning, some favor-pulling, and some gymnastics, but it meant I could enjoy an opportunity or two that doesn’t come around all that frequently.

You may miss your own allium, but see someone’s else’s striking display – which gives you ideas for your own next year.

If you’re a serious gardener and feeling yourself instinctively saying no to family and friends and opportunities because the poppies are blooming that week, the baby seedlings need watering, or the fragrant wisteria panicles need your full, undivided, gobsmacked attention, be honest with yourself – when won’t they?

Kiss the ones you love while you can under a wisteria-covered arch somewhere else instead. Carpe diem. – MW