Comparing gardens with messy first drafts

A number of writers I know are also gardeners. I think it has something to do with a desire for control — or maybe it’s more of an artistic desire to create beauty. No, I still think it’s control. We take seeds, cuttings and bedding plants, tuck them into assorted nooks and crannies in our yard, add a little nourishment and water, and dream about how it will all come together into something beautiful. Sometimes it does; sometimes it doesn’t.

My garden beds always end up a jumble of plants, despite my good intentions. In the one small patch pictured below you’ll find a sword fern and a lady fern (I didn’t plant those… they just growed, like Topsy), hosta, scatterings of cranesbill, a clump of Siberian iris leaves, a golden phitzer juniper, a white astilbe, and some encroaching lamium. They’ve overrun each other and when I look, all I see is a crowded mess.

Messy Garden-1

I tend to be a little philosophical about my gardening. (That’s a tactful way of saying I don’t get my knickers in a knot when something doesn’t grow the way I expected.) The surrounding woods create acidic soil and lots of shade, plus we’re on a well and I don’t often waste water on the gardens. So I understand when certain plants appear to be growth-challenged. In search of better results, I embark on a dig-and-relocate mission. Of course if they don’t survive at all, it becomes a dig-and-discard event!

When plants surprise me, taking hold and rambling over and around neighbouring ones, I step back to marvel at their tenacity and scrutinize the effect. Given there are few blooms amid the various greens, it’s not the ‘English country garden’ look. It’s not any desired look unless it qualifies as au naturel. To be honest, it’s just plain overrun and unkempt, and some days I think I ought to dig it all out and start from scratch.


But if I take a closer look and can focus on the singular instead of the muddle, I discover teensy pockets of beauty. Exquisite shades of passion and capsules of colour among the graceful green fronds and glossy leaves. They are moments of glory to salvage. Maybe I need to reconsider my desire to bulldoze the whole thing.


We take words and mash them up, sprinkle them around, link them together… all in an effort to make them convey the perfect story that’s hovering in our heads. First drafts, as I mentioned earlier this week, can be a mess. We work scene by scene and often despair of the writing ever coming together to be seen as worthy.

There is a time to step back, look beyond the scenes and evaluate the whole. Then there’s a time to prune and cull,  looking closely to see what gems might be salvageable.

Then again, there’s a time to walk away altogether — stop evaluating and second-guessing — and wait for another day when we may be in a better frame of mind and able to discern the beauty that was there all the time. A fresh look may give us a better perspective of what it’s going to take to make it all work together without turning it into a muddle or deciding to toss it into the trashcan.

Any other suggestions? In what way does your current writing resemble gardening?

~  ~  ~


6 thoughts on “Comparing gardens with messy first drafts

  1. Judith Robl says:

    Since I possess the world’s largest “gangrene thumb”, I gaze green-eyed at people who can garden and keep plants alive. It is something akin to the admiration (and wistful touch of envy) I have for people who can churn out story after story while I struggle along with unfinished fiction.

    • Carol says:

      My plants keep themselves alive, Judith. It’s survival of the fittest here and they know if they don’t stay green and/or keep their leaves, they’ll get thrown on the compost pile. I wish my stories would cooperate like that. 😉

  2. Jenn Hubbard says:

    I love these pictures of your garden. I have always preferred the natural look to an overly regimented look. The plants look like they belong there.

    • Carol says:

      Jenn, I’m not much for formality in the garden, either, but when it gets so we can’t distinguish the plants from the weeds, I think it’s a little *too* natural.

  3. Honestly, I’m waiting in earnest for your garden photography book. I’ll place it on my coffee table and tell all my guests that I know the author!

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