My desert olive trees have olives, you see, so naturally I'm a bit confused.
One of my friends is fond of saying that we make our own realities, that our world is as much a product of our perceptions as it is of objective truths. I see this perspective playing out in the way I view my garden, and the ways its successes and failures are shoe-horned into a Master Narrative, an archetypal story—in this case, “It's all going according to plan.”
The desert olives are a case in point. They are among the plants I didn't really know much about when I put them in, although the same could be said for almost everything else in my garden. Even though I grew up in the west, I learned about perennial gardening in New York state and Vermont—antithetical regions to the high desert of Albuquerque. I designed my garden based on research into native plants, a lot of ideas from British gardening books, and (some) common sense.
In case you were wondering, research is not the same as experience. You can read all the right books, haunt the online forums, prowl the botanic gardens, question the people in the biggest, floppiest hats at your local garden center (strange but true fact: the people in big, floppy hats always know the most), etc., etc., but you don't really know what a plant will do until you know its life history in your garden. That is to say, you only really know what it will do once it has actually done it. The whole endeavor is a leap in the dark, a lesson in hope—but once it works, it's what you had planned on all along.
To return to the desert olive (Forestiera neomexicana). What I read in my books is that it is a large shrub or small tree with delicate leaves, golden fall color, and small, olive-like fruits that attract songbirds. The branches bend at unpredictable angles, giving mature trees distinct personalities and winter interest. They're deeply taprooted, so they are suitable for small spaces. I'd never seen one in action, so to speak, but they sounded perfect, so I planted three of them.
|All according to plan...|
Of course, one hopes when one plants trees that they will grow, leaf, and fruit—it's rather the point of trees. But telling the story, “My trees are doing just what I'd planned on them doing; my garden design is all working out” ignores the fact that my garden is on its fourth Master Plan in four years, that those three trees (and two bush cherries) are literally the only things still growing where I initially put them (if at all), that some of those unpredictably bending branches are shading what used to be direct-sun beds which will now need replanting, and that the finches have defoliated all the upper branches by perching in them so that they (the branches) look really silly.
All those things get brushed to the side, simply because the trees now have olives, and have done what desert olive trees (apparently) do. The failures, changes, re-thinkings, quirks, and disappointments are all recast as sketches, rough drafts, part of the learning process leading to this ultimate end. That's the story I tell.
But really, it was all just a leap in the dark.