A week or so ago my mother-in-law and I had a conversation about aging. It seemed to us that there are many who reach a certain age and decide that they are “old”. What bothers me is that it is usually considered a negative thing. In this society growing older is a common fear, but there are some that embrace life and age gracefully. In other words they don’t try to hide the fact that they are aging because they are indeed still beautiful.
After our conversation I started thinking about how age applies in the garden. I realized immediately that the opposite is desired. When I buy a new tree I’m very excited, but almost instantly I start to imagine what it will look like when it gets older. Sure, right now it’s still small, pretty, and cute, but I look forward to when it has reached its full maturity. Only then will I truly be able to appreciate the shade from its canopy and the sound of its leaves blowing in the breeze. It seems to me that aging in the garden is a positive thing. I mean think about it. How many times have you bought a plant, like for instance a hydrangea, planted it in the ground and checked every day to see how much it has grown? You look forward to that moment when you can grab your pruners and collect those gorgeous blue flowers for your vase.
It occurred to me that there are some people who still try to fight age not only with themselves, but with their gardens as well. It is a well-known fact that crape murder is present here in Northwest Florida. March is a rough time for me. Not because my birthday comes to pass and I’m a year older, it’s the time when several crape myrtles get massacred. I cringe as I pass the harshly cut back trees when I drive down the street. It’s a terrible thing to do to these trees as it promotes disease and insect infestation not to mention weak branches that will break in our wind storms. Although here it is a tradition that has been passed down. The goal of this technique is to keep the trees smaller or we could say…younger. They don’t want the trees to grow to full size and they want the flower panicles to be big and showy. This is another result of the cutting.
To me it is the same as what humans do to themselves with plastic surgery; cutting parts of our body to keep it appearing younger. However, a lot of times the result of all this is much worse than where they started. If they had just let things alone, and allow nature to do what it was intended, then they too could be as beautiful as a full-grown crape myrtle tree in June with its hundreds of blossoms.
Then another thought popped into my head about gardeners and how watching the garden grow effects their feelings about aging. The real gardeners I know who are older than me are not “old”. On the contrary they still are able to do all of their garden work themselves. It reminds me of a customer I had many years ago. She had to be at least eighty years old and was dragging a wagon behind her full of plants and soil to her car. I insisted that I help her unload it, but she would not let me. I couldn’t help but laugh because there were women half her age who would not even carry their wagons let alone unload them into their vehicles. I watched her as she walked by noticing that she seemed healthier and not to mention happier than the younger women. It was clear that she had welcomed age just as she did in her garden. Not only that, but I was certain that she was on her way home to plant more in her garden all by herself.