I just figured out something about visiting gardens while reading more of the letters in Becoming Elizabeth Lawrence: Discovered Letters of a Southern Gardener edited by Emily Herring Wilson.
Elizabeth wrote a letter to Ann Preston Bridgers in April 1945 about her visit to Lob’s Wood, the gardens of Carl Krippendorf, where apparently a late freeze had blackened the magnolias and lilacs and all the daffodils were wilting. She wrote,
“He was exactly like you about the frost, and I felt I could not bear to begin all over again. After we had walked over the thirty acres of daffodils, all wilted or wilting, and several miles of blackened lilacs and daffodils, he said, “You are very sweet. But you know and I know that it was not worth your coming.” I said I had come to see him, and did not care about the lilacs or daffodils, which was perfectly true but he was not listening.”
What did I figure out? That I much prefer to visit a garden with the gardener there, telling me the story of their garden, than to visit a garden just to see a collection of plants and how they are arranged and never find out how it all came to be.
Now, I do love to see a good collection of plants in a garden that is well-thought out, but seeing it with no background or story makes it one dimensional, like looking at a picture in a magazine with no other information.
I want to see a garden in all its dimensions, to hear the gardener describe it. I don’t care if the garden was recently blackened by frost, baked by the sun, half-planted, or full of weeds. Of course, many gardeners would prefer not to let others see their gardens in those conditions, but it isn’t just the garden we want to see. We also want to hear the story of the garden, and the story of the gardener.
And if the gardener is there to tell the story of their garden, or if I’ve read the story of it, I can see past weeds and frost damage, beyond overgrowth and unplanted areas and imagine it as the gardener planned for it to be, how they want it to be, and enjoy it so much more.