I am not a scrapbooker. You will not see me in the craft store on a Saturday morning picking out cutsie stickers or themed paper to highlight a fleeting memory or preserve a treasured moment in time. But as much as I’d like to make fun of my scrapbooking friends ‘till the cows come home and pretend that hooked rugs and cross-stitch rank higher in the handcraft hierarchy; my lack of interest in the scrapbooking department mostly boils down to the fact that I can’t find my photographs. The digital age of photography has not been kind to people like me who relied on developed film to prompt them to put photos in albums – or at least in boxes for a lazy Sunday afternoon browse.
The closest I will ever get to scrapbooking is through the medium of my garden.
There are no photos to rummage through here. No adorable appliqués of baby bottles or clinking margarita glasses – yet everywhere I look in my green creation there are memories; recollections of people, events, places and periods in my life and they are as clear as if I had a 35 mm photo in one hand and a nice glass of Cabernet Franc in the other.
Each morning on my way to pull another bag of wood pellets out of the basement, I walk past a garden bed I lovingly refer to as Rosemary’s Walk. My mother helped me lay out the design one evening when she came for a visit and the gnats threatened to send her home within hours. She swatted and swatted, and in desperation came up with the design for my treasured “Gnat Hat” – a tool I would not be without in my summer garden. I think of her every time I put it on my head.
Just near this pathway there is a Photinia fraserii – limbed up into a little tree after a dear family friend and fellow gardener lectured me on the art of pruning one day. There is the upright Hypericum which I wrap in burlap and leaves every November – a plant grown from a small layered stem my father and I uprooted while constructing a deer fence at my parents home years ago. It continues to be the only semi-hardy shrub I am willing to treat like a spoiled child.
Two French hybrid Lavenders grace the side walkway – splits of the original that was given to me ten years ago upon the birth of my daughter – now allowed to become unruly and woody on the off chance that severe pruning might cause them to die. Across the walkway, a large stand of Easter egg yellow iris – brought from the first house my husband and I purchased and presumably forced to follow us from house to house until the end of our days.
And so many, many more.
Yet it is not only plants & beds that elicit the occasional bout of DES (Damp Eye Syndrome). There are garden ornaments my children have given me, a compost pile a friend helped me build; and if I need snapping out of my sentimental reverie, two thousand bricks dug out of a dirt pile now transformed into paths and edgings and walls. That was one long summer – indelibly and indefinitely stamped upon my memory dirty brick by dirty brick.
This spring I am sprouting a new memory for the garden: a London Plane tree or Platanus x acerifolia. In October on a trip back to London, I walked past my old university building and on a lark, jumped up and pulled a seed ball off of one of the numerous Planes that have graced the streets of Bloomsbury for years. To my great joy this week, two of the many seeds are germinating. Now I don’t know what on earth I am going to do with a ninety foot Sycamore on my little plot – but what a wonderful living souvenir of a memorable time in my life.
The compilation of memories in a garden should be a slow and organic process. Rush through the development on a quest to get the garden you see in the magazines, and you cheat yourself of the pleasure of seeing things come together slowly through the gifts, love and energy of others. Of course there is a place for instant projects and perhaps even a check-writing session or two, but surprisingly it is often the littlest things you will find yourself smiling over on an early spring morning: a tiny seedling, a treasured plant or whimsical ornament – a hard won victory or a cherished gift. In short…a scrapbook – no stickers required.
I’m not a scrapbooker either, but my garden is certainly stitched together with wonderful memories. In almost every flower bed, there are divisions of the two varieties of Siberian irises that a friend gave me as divisions from her own garden and that first got me started growing perennials. Two varieties of peonies came from my mother’s garden and connect me to memories of her. When I see the astrantia blooming, I am reminded of my visit to Sissinghurst, where I first discovered this plant. Plants can also remind me of favorite nurseries (some no longer in existence) and of the plantsmen and plantswomen who ran them. And, unlike a scrapbook, which you have to make a special effort to get out and look at, a garden of memories is there every time I step outdoors.