I have a lot of passions and hobbies. I read a new book every other day or so, have a massive telescope, and love to cook (and visit new restaurants). But my most consuming passion is gardening.
I fell head-over-heels in love with gardening over a decade ago when we bought a house in the country among the rolling thoroughbred horse farms outside Lexington, Kentucky. After reading Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, we plowed a half-acre of land to build the biggest vegetable garden you have ever seen. (No joke, that book will give you some dangerous gardening ambitions. We had FIFTY-SIX varieties of tomatoes in our garden. Do you have any idea how many tomatoes that produces? We started throwing them at each other like juicy red bombs after a while, before we learned that we could donate fresh produce.) I earned enormous blisters chopping limestone with a mattock in order to plant a rose garden overlooking a large creek. It was totally worth it.
I’d like to think that I have matured since then, grown a little wiser and moderate, but I really haven’t. My garden philosophy has always been go big or go home. Enter my specimen garden in Florida.
There are many good reasons to move to Florida. There are still pristine beaches here. The wildlife (and the people) are rather exotic and entertainingly unpredictable. You can get a Cuban sandwich anywhere in town. Tourists pay substantially all of your taxes.
To me, one of the biggest draws was being able to have a garden all year long and to be able to collect tropical plants. Kentucky winters were rough on me psychologically, I’m not going to lie. To look out over land that was drifts of roses and azaleas and see drifts of snow is probably the most depressing thing I can think of, short of something awful happening to a loved one. I tried to survive the winters by looking at flower catalogs and reading books on garden design, but that only exacerbated the problem.
When we moved here, I tore out all the boring landscaping shrubs on our property and planted everything I found in nurseries traveling up and down the coast that seemed fancy and tropical. I started collecting gingers. I made a bank of Hawaiian ti. I went nuts.
But nothing came close to my collection of impatiens. Now I know that when I say impatiens, you think of the little flowers planted in rows in medians outside shopping malls. But in Florida, I discovered that I could grow impatiens that were over three feet tall and would last for years. I made a line of these flowers all along the front of our house with colorful canna lilies and a massive cape honeysuckle from South Africa (not pictured, but they have showers of bright orange flowers).
My gardens quickly became famous in the neighborhood. Every weekend, I would be out working in the yard and ten or fifteen people would come over to talk to me while I worked. I had to give tours around the back yard where the gingers were. People would stop me around town to rave about my green thumb. It was great.
Well, I did something really, really bad yesterday.
I ripped out the impatiens to plant dipladenia, which is a bushy version of mandevilla. Before I planted the new plants, the whole front of the garden was completely bare where the impatiens had been. Cars would drive in front of our house and lock up their brakes. I started to think I was going to get a welfare call from the police.
This morning, I went out to plant the new border and a man stopped to talk to me. He was genuinely angry with me for removing the impatiens. He was actually shaking as he spoke. How are you supposed to react in such a situation? I tried to explain to him that they were starting to look spent and I wanted a change. He got angrier. They were perfectly fine, he said, maybe they needed a little fertilizer. He told me the new plants were not going to be as lovely as the impatiens and I should put impatiens back. I told him that they were no longer selling them in the stores. He took that as further evidence of my poor decision-making. Other cars started to slow down as we chatted, and I thought for a moment I was going to have a mob on my hands. I started to thank God that I am not on Next Door.
You don’t understand, he said. I walk down here every day just to look at your flowers. He knows others who do too. How could you do this to us?
Am I running a public garden here?
I tried to assure him that the process of rebuilding was part of gardening and he should trust that the new garden would be as beautiful as the original. After further rebuttals, I was like, crikey, I can’t resurrect the flowers, get some therapy already.
I had no idea that my whim to pull out the impatiens would be like the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. I don’t even want to go outside now on the chance that I might get yelled at again. I don’t even want to think about what’s going to happen if the dipladenia don’t take off. We might have to move.