Getting The Gardening Bug

Lady Gardener weather vane

From the time that I had a place to do it, I wanted to grow things, mostly flowering plants.  I didn’t know anything about plants; I didn’t come from a family of what I  would now call “proper” gardeners.  My Mother planted a lot of annuals and bulbs (rather nicely, I now realize) and there was always fresh parsley to cut for garnishes for when my parents entertained, but that was about it.

After growing up in eastern Washington and graduating from the University of Washington in Seattle, and having absolutely no idea of what I wanted to do for a living, I spent a year in Norway…and then ended up in New York City working for Pan American Airways as a stewardess on the newly inaugurated 747s flying to Europe, South America and the Caribbean.

Lady Gardener weather vane

From the time that I had a place to do it, I wanted to grow things, mostly flowering plants.  I didn’t know anything about plants; I didn’t come from a family of what I  would now call “proper” gardeners.  My Mother planted a lot of annuals and bulbs (rather nicely, I now realize) and there was always fresh parsley to cut for garnishes for when my parents entertained, but that was about it.

After growing up in eastern Washington and graduating from the University of Washington in Seattle, and having absolutely no idea of what I wanted to do for a living, I spent a year in Norway…and then ended up in New York City working for Pan American Airways as a stewardess on the newly inaugurated 747s flying to Europe, South America and the Caribbean.

“Translating their information and advice to the American climate was not straightforward, to say the very least.”

That was far more eye-opening than glamorous, and I eventually escaped from New York to Pennsylvania, north of Philadelphia where I lived with my first husband.  We had a very small, and very charming 18th century farmhouse more or less in the country; it was in no way grand.

The garden space I had to develop consisted of two acres of uncultivated heavy acidic clay.  There was a small wood behind and open fields surrounded us.  The summers were hot and humid and the winters usually had at least some snow.  It was, however, a much milder climate than what I had grown up with on the Washington/ Idaho border…

I knew nothing, but, like a lot of Americans who aspired to garden at the time, avidly read English gardening books.  Translating their information and advice to the American climate was not straightforward, to say the very least.  To my dismay, the flower borders I had so carefully chosen had finished flowering long before their English counterparts.

It wasn’t until I visited gardens in Hampshire while staying with my husband’s sister that the penny dropped and I finally realized that the earlier and much more intense heat of the Philadelphia climate (Philadelphia is at the same latitude as Barcelona after all…) created very different effects from what I was trying so hard to create…

Still, England was, for me the mecca of gardening and all things garden-related.  Whenever I  in was in London I would go to Hatchard’s, that wonderful book store in Piccadilly and drool over their enormous selection of gardening books. 

(There was also, at that time a postal service, sadly no longer available, called a “book rate” for posting large or heavy things cheaply across the Atlantic by ship.  I took full advantage and built up a stock of garden reference  sources.)

“I was wholly  and happily besotted and out of control.”

Hugh Johnson’s 1979 book entitled The Principles of Gardening had an enormous influence on me.  I have only now to leaf through the pages to see the photographs and read the paragraphs about plants I wanted to grow and the aspects of gardening I wanted to learn.  It was a very aspirational book (certainly for a young woman who had grown up in the arid environs of the far west)..and I aspired.

It was a photograph of the sumptuous, tightly packed petals of the Bourbon rose called “Souvenir De La Malmaison”, that sent me over the edge into a love affair with old-fashioned roses.  I set about willy-nilly creating a large (over 40 shrub) collection.  I was wholly  and happily besotted and out of control.

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