"Green fingers are the extension of a verdant heart."
I remember vividly the day I discovered I liked to garden.
(Humiliation has a way of staying with you.)
That early spring morning was cool and clean, the sky a stunning blue. I'd just moved into my first country home and being A Country Person now I wanted to taste the part as quickly as possible. Before I was even unpacked I ran out and bought up a trunk load of plants; mostly marigolds and dahlias, not that I knew what they were then. I knew nothing about gardening or plants or proper light but I was bright enough to see that the large area running the front of the house that was already nicely dug up and had no weeds to pull was going to be easier than planting anywhere else so I sat down to plant my plants. As I turned the soil I pulled out an ever growing pile of lumpy wood-like bits and tossed them over to one side. I'd heard about compost and was anxious to try my hand at that too, this lot could make my first pile.
The morning was intoxicating. The air was so clean it felt tingly, wide open acres of soon-to-be-planted corn fields stretched in silence all around me as far as the eye could see, and the wonderful smell of fresh turned earth filled my senses. I was liking this, I could Do country!
I spent a happy while planting my mixed and random colored plants in a nice straight row the entire length of the house. I think the Gods smile on fools at times and helped me make this "totally wrong garden" better than it would have been with only my lack of knowledge to lead me. I found I had enough plants for two rows and few more stuck here and there in the spots where my rows were wobbly. Afterwards I watered them gently with a pitcher from the house- not owning a hose yet, and gathered up the wheelbarrow full of woody bits to start my first ever compost pile behind the garage. I cut the lawn that day and added the grass clippings too. By days end I felt like part of the land, all self sufficient and quite clever.
The rest of that year flew by in a heady rush of Connecting to Mother Earth. I learned that you had to plant corn in blocks for pollination, I learned about keeping the compost pile warm and thriving, and about covering flower beds with old sheets to protect them from spring frosts. I learned about raised beds and experimented wildly. I built a cold frame. I learned about pruning pear trees and companion planting for my eight varieties of tomatoes. I learned that I loved small sweet new dug potatoes (I've rarely had a potato reach full size yet), the smell of climbing sweet peas, and discovered the breathtaking beauty of callas and irises. I grew callas in pots down the back steps and around the wellhead and longed for a wide "English" border of irises for the following spring.
That fall I raked leaves for the compost, dug up the callas and even learned I could dig up the dahlias I'd first planted those many months before and pack them in sawdust (by then I'd learned the names of the plants I'd bought that first day). I planted crocus and paperwhites and hyacinths and amaryllis in pots and filled most of my refrigerator with them for indoor flowers through the winter, and I created my first terrarium under lights in an old aquarium. Then I dug up a long wide area that I intended to fill with irises and rushed out with the list of varieties and colors I planned to buy clasped tightly in hand.
Then I saw an iris tuber.
I stood dazed as the garden center receded until I felt I was kneeling once more in that bright spring morning turning over my first bit of dirt and tossing oh so happily - what became a heaped wheelbarrow full of - iris rhizomes over my shoulder to use as the foundation of my first compost pile. I learned that morning what was to become The Premier Lesson of the Year: What You Don't Know Today Can Be Rather Expensive Tomorrow.
It was over ten years before I was able to create an iris border to rival the number of plants I threw out the morning I decided I was going to be a gardener. It was twenty five years before I got over the embarrassment enough to tell anyone what an brilliant start I'd had in gardening! And by then I was laughing too hard to tell the story right anyway. That morning was not my most intelligent moment ever but it did lead me into a life long love of growing things. My mistake that morning propelled me to read, study, experiment, keep notes and records, and take photos so to avoid that particular way of learning again.
I have learned some since that morning, and planted a few plants too. And I still have irises in my garden today.