What a beautiful mess. Midsummer in the garden is at once colorful and chaotic, abundant and overwhelming. Just as the perennial borders burst with flowers, the vegetable garden grows fulsome with ripening fruits. Add to this luscious scenario an intrusive reality: suffocating weeds, marauding pests, and the unfinished business of early summer gardening. The result is both madness and paradise, and it’s all how you choose to look at it.
Messy gardeners can disregard the weeds, the mess, and any unpleasantness when the object of our love comes into view. Whether it’s a single flower or a field of them, a perfectly ripe tomato or row of corn, we forget all else in a shining moment.
Every year, a patch of sunflowers springs up from last year’s seed in a barren spot near the garage. It’s a feast of yellow petals, a small garden loaded with life. As the sunflowers open, the bees work the centers to gather gold dust, their legs and bodies growing fat with the sticky yellow pollen. Honeybees, solitary bumbles, and the deceptive hoverfly blend their colors to the flower as, below them, weeds rise up in scraggly competition for the sun. From my back porch the flowers’ faces meet me almost at eye level and from there the lamb’s quarters, purslane, quackgrass, and pokeweed are powerless. All I see is paradise.
So it is in a newly planted spot back by the white pine and spruce trees. Having cleared the vines from underneath last fall, I freed some shrubs from their stranglehold and moved in others for a makeshift garden until deciding what to do. Negligence, followed by tons of rain and deadly indecision resulted in a resurgence of strangling vines. Promising to get to it, I ignored the space until the several weeks ago when I swung the rider mower past to discover a glorious, blooming peegee hydrangea, its white mopheads flopping defiantly against a carpet of bittersweet.. Next to it, a pale pink Fairy rose pushed its delicate flowers through the nest of weeds. Forgotten were the weeds and forgiven was my negligence in the joy of their survival. I renewed my promise to get to it. Really.
Back among the vegetables, the late-planted string beans and the self-seeded tomatoes have blossomed into strong, healthy plants despite constant threats from the surrounding foxtails. A couple of cucumber and zucchini plants, sown by seed when everyone else’s plants had nearly matured, have rewarded me with beautiful green fruits. They are all duking it out with not only the weeds, but midsummer’s onslaught of beetles and a persistent groundhog. Most visitors recoil at the sight but my head is filled with nothing but canned pickles, dilly beans, and pickled beets stacked in rows of shining glass jars under the kitchen counter.
Somewhat more difficult to reconcile are the languishing, unplanted shrubs and perennials from plant sales that intermingle with stacks of plastic pots yet to be recycled and heaps of lumpy bagged leaves. The trashy scene unfolds right where people get out of their cars and creates an appalling first impression. Such negligence would seem irredeemable to even the sunniest optimist. Not so. Every so often, a perennial sends up a flowering stalk or a cat curls up inside one of the pots for a midday snooze. Those small moments tame the madness and bring beauty out of chaos. They remind us it’s all how you look at it.