My dear friend Sarah and I loved taking Saturday nature-related adventures together. One Saturday we drove west to explore Muir Woods, complete with a delightful picnic lunch along the coastline. Once we made the drive to Mill Creek in search of Sugar Pinecones and a thick chocolate milkshake at the Mill Creek Inn. Once we spent a crisp October Saturday climbing Mt. Lassen, pausing often to breathe deeply and take in the panoramic view. But our very favorite Saturday nature adventure took place every year in early May when we would spend the day lingering in the featured gardens so generously shared with us during a traditional Chico garden tour.
We spent the entire day, strolling around phenomenal private grounds. Sometimes we would be fortunate enough to talk with the hosting owner, and we listened in rapture to their garden story - how they started, what they hoped for, who helped along the journey. Often, we would find a seat and sit silently, side by side, absorbing the visual landscape, feeling the warmth of the sun on our faces as we took in the garden sights and aromas. We filled our phones with pictures of ideas, staged garden displays, and flowers. We made note of this plant or that flower, promising ourselves that we would add it to our own gardens when possible.
After visiting the gardens, we enjoyed a garden-themed luncheon provided by the tour organizers. We bought plants and too many raffle tickets, hoping to win some delightful garden accessory. Those garden tour Saturdays brought us dreams of garden envy. Our heads would spin with visons of professional design and coordinated plantings. I dreamed of cactus and succulents in oversized turquoise pots, pavers divided by Irish moss, and flowers … so many beautiful flowers.
The reality was that in those days, neither of us had much time for gardening. Our weekends were usually spent with family laundry, housekeeping and preparation for the upcoming school week. I always felt like I was an accomplished gardener by just keeping ahead of the weeds. My garden was a hodge-podge of what I picked up at a big box garden supply and the volunteers carried in by birds or the wind. But how I envied the lovely gardens of others.
Today, with more time to spend in my garden, I have come to realize what an incompetent gardener I have been. Most of my garden doesn’t work – it’s random, overgrown, or just plain ugly. So, recently I have returned to my garden tour photos and come to look to my neighborhood for inspiration. As I walk in the early morning, I notice what grows well in our rocky lava cap soil. A few of the neighboring yards where I walk boast the work of professional landscapers, so I try to learn from them – when and how do I prune, what textures should I consider, what plants are successful, what plants complement one another? Sometimes I can talk with the gardening crew members. They are generous sharing the tricks of their trade. I listen and I apply. And, I must admit, it seems to be working. I no longer am seduced by what’s blooming beautifully in the garden supply department. Instead, I look for what will thrive in my yard and what will entice the 3 Bs – birds, bees, and butterflies – to visit and to stay. My garden is beginning to please me.
My envious eye has become more appreciative, more accepting, more patient. I have become a gardening learner. Now, when I think fondly about those beautiful Saturdays Sarah and I spent touring showcase gardens, I also remember how the perfect gardens would sometimes exhaust us. As Sarah once sighed at the end of a full day, “If this were my garden, I would never be able to rest and enjoy it.” Peace comes in surprising ways.
The Red Bluff Garden Club is a member of Cascade District, California Garden Clubs, Inc., Pacific Region Garden Clubs, Inc., and National Garden Clubs, Inc.