This summer I have noticed two major changes.
First: this is the first year I look at what I have planted and I don't see plants. I am no longer looking at individual shrubs or isolated perennials when I survey my garden. I see the whole scene and I see it naturally without having to try to step back or force myself to take the longer view.
This has been a long time coming. For years and years I have been focused on each individual specimen. Every time I sat in my garden I saw the strugglers. Every time I walked around I zeroed in on the shape of that little shrub, or the floppiness of those tall perennials, or the new growth on a sapling.
I do take care of each plant individually if it needs something -- some staking or pruning or a check on aphids -- but when I look I see a whole garden. I no longer see a collection of needy beings.
Second: this is the first summer I have come home from visiting public gardens or private tours and thought "my garden looks as good as what I just saw." My gardens please me, and they please me in direct comparison to other beautifully tended and gorgeously designed places that I have just seen.
I drive up the driveway on my return and the word "wow" sort of slips out. I look out the kitchen window and think "that's really nice".
I sit on my porch or out on the patio and I like it. Even the new things I've planted that aren't at their best yet, or the things I know I need to take out or move -- even they fit into a larger, immensely pleasing scene.
How did this happen? How did my focus on each plant change to a wider view, and how did I lose that edgy dissatisfaction when comparing my garden to others?
Well, my garden matured. Even though trees and shrubs are not yet full sized, they are bigger and fuller. There is some blessed shade now. There is screening from the road and neighbors. It's no longer a collection of things out in the open sun, exposed to nearby surroundings. It is a coherent space that draws you in. There are layers, and there are places to walk into, and it is complex. It's taken me 9 years.
And as a gardener I have progressed. There is a process all new gardeners go through, from first lusting after bright flowers, to then learning about individual plants and wanting specimens, to eventually absorbing design concepts.
After all these years I like my garden. I think it is a special place.