“Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.” Voltaire.
This roughly translates as the best is the enemy of the good. I was thinking about this a lot recently while I was out planting in the Dell. I was tired, it was still sort of hot, and it was very buggy, so I was wearing extra clothing to deter the bugs, making me even hotter. All of these elements added up to making me feel like cutting corners with plant placement, soil amendment and post-planting mulching. As I got irritable with the mosquitoes, who are just trying to make a living after all, I also realized that I would regret cutting any corners. I also realized that I often garden in the opposite way, which is much too static.
I try to find the perfect spot for not only the plant the way it is today, but also how it will be in the future. However, I don’t even have a real time line for the future. The plant at maturity, perhaps? Except that all my plants will mature at different times (except the male plants, which won’t mature at all, ha ha!), so I am planning for a garden that cannot possibly ever exist. What is the point of that? This quest for perfection really paralyzes (I read so many British books I want to spell that word in the British way, with two esses, but Spell Check keeps correcting me) me. I will agonize for weeks over the placement of a plant, and then, often, when I do commit and actually start to plant it I will spend even more time moving it just a few inches this way and that. In the meantime, I have plants languishing in their pots, yearning to stretch their roots into some genuine dirt, sometimes even giving up because they have been confined for so long. Plants are dying while I dither, looking for some ideal which will never be realized. That seems rather counterproductive.
I have thought about different options. Should I have a daily quota of plants planted? That seems so arbitrary and would lead to referee rulings on issues such as should do 4 inch plants count the same as 10 gallon pots. Should I lay out an entire bed at a time, rather than plant by plant? I am carving some of my beds out of the woods and meadows, so I can’t imagine how I would stay ahead of the weeds. I think that method works better for people who have crews to do the installation fast. I am slow. So, for now, what I am focusing on is to achieve “pretty good”. First of all, I make sure that the plant is in the correct place for its physical well-being, the proper amount of light/shade, moisture, drainage. Next I try to address aesthetic considerations. Will adjacent flower colors play off one another well, is there enough contrast of leaf color, texture and size, are the bigger plants in the back and the smaller ones in the front, with some taller, airy plants in between? Some of hese elements are so subjective, and others change so much, that I could play with these criteria forever. A famous garden designer, Gertrude Jekyll, was known for her perennial borders that moved across a chromatic scale from pastel to bold, or hot to cool. I am not nearly that talented or compulsive. I am just trying to make sure that the purples don’t clash.
Therefore, every time I find myself worrying about my choice of plant and location I am trying to move on with the assurance that if it really doesn’t work out I can always move the plant. I move plants all the time. Moving plants is fine. I also need to trust the process a little more. We get better at doing things by doing them. Studying them, thinking about them, planning them, talking about them can only go so far. Eventually you have to get your hands dirty and start accruing those 10,000 hours that lead to mastery. So, if I just keep doing this maybe something will stick. Maybe I will start to develop a better sense of what goes where the first time a plant goes in the soil. I think I need to just keep doing, trying, put the plant where I think it should go, and move along. I will never achieve perfect, but when the slanting, golden evening light hits everything just so even pretty good can look pretty fabulous.