I was pulling a cart through the shrub and perennial section of Country Arbors earlier this fall, looking for more plants to complete the design of the new front garden I’d been installing since August. I’d long since given up on the grand design plan I’d put together, resigned to the fact that you can’t always get what you want, when you want it.
But what I found myself thinking as my eyes scanned the aisles was, “What are people going to think about this plant?” My thoughts and decisions were being controlled by the fact that my garden will be one of seven on next summer’s county garden walk. I was choosing plants based on what I thought the hundreds of visitors would think of them in my garden, ignoring my own personal preferences in the process.
I stopped suddenly, standing amid puddles left over from an earlier rainstorm, cold because I’d failed to wear an adequate jacket on a blustery day. I looked at the plants I’d already put in the cart and asked myself, “Would I be putting these in my garden if no other soul ever stepped foot in its soil?”
Many of the plants in the cart survived the cut, but some made their way back to greenhouse benches, replaced with specimens that were more to my personal liking. I walked around the nursery for good hour more, finding inspiration in every corner. I shopped like I’ve always shopped. Find the plant first, find the place later. Does this lead to a more haphazard garden? Certainly. But it leads to a garden that is authentically mine, a garden that follows my heart instead of the rules.
But there is a fear that remains. In the more than 12 years that I’ve been gardening here, only a handful of people have ever seen its entirety — mostly close friends, and certainly not hundreds who’ve paid for the privilege to walk its paths and breathe its air. Most who have seen my garden have seen it through the carefully focused frame of my camera, a choreographed version of reality.
It’s a bit like Oz, and I’m the wizard behind the curtain.
Opening my garden is akin to opening my soul. It is the most tangible outward expression of me that exists, in all its eclectic glory. Most of us — myself included — occasionally peek outside the curtain or even more rarely let others behind it where our vulnerability lives. We prefer to let others see what we want them to see, a filtered portrait of our true selves.
There’s something I’ve learned (or perhaps finally admitted) about myself. I am emotionally wired to affirmation, and I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time and energy positioning myself as a result. But it always felt hollow, because I’ve focused on trying to be someone that others expected me to be. I now understand that the only affirmation that truly feeds me is that which affirms the authentic me, weeds and all.
When I stand among the visitors next June, I’m sure it will feel as if I am emotionally naked for all to see me through my garden. I am sure the exhilaration will be equally matched by terror; the smiles will be air under my feet, and criticisms will sting.
But despite the uncertainty, I am ready to step from behind the curtain and be a wizard, revealed.