"Barberry, the Three-Toed Elephant" is a tale about youth, difference, and acceptance—not to mention a wise, understanding Mama Elephant—created by my mother (hi, Mom!). She told this story as a serial tale, unfolding it over several evenings, lo these many years ago when my sister and I were young. Mom would start spinning the new day's installment, and my sister and I would listen eagerly. At some point one of us would say something like, "But what about the lion, isn't there a lion?" or "Couldn't they have hot fudge sundaes for lunch instead?" Mom would blink for a minute, not having expected lions or quite such a drastic change in the jungle lunch menu. Then she'd say, in a mysterious voice that let you know she'd planned for this all along and had a real treat in store, "We'll get to that a little later." And at some point within the next two sentences to 24 hours, a lion and some hot-fudge sundaes would show up.
It was interactive story-telling at its best—not like those so-called interactive novels where you choose alternate possibilities from a pre-set range of options that lead to already-written results. Those are just entertaining multiple-choice tests. Mom, on the other hand, was ready to swing at whatever curveball we threw her. We were all agog to find out what happened next, because none of us, not even the teller of the tale, knew quite what to expect.
I've begun to conclude that that's really my approach to gardening—that gardening is an interactive story, and I am one of a co-op of story-tellers, agog to find out what happens. It would be more satisfying in some ways to be a visual-artist type gardener, creating a series of shifting, seasonal tableaux; or an exterior decorator, coming up with a pleasing arrangement of living furniture. I envy both of those, I really do—the results are so consistently beautiful, so worthy of photographing and sharing with the world.
Instead...well, let's just say that there's a reason I usually only show close-ups of my garden—i.e., the larger picture often looks kind of silly.* The reason the larger picture looks silly is that I often swing at curveballs and miss. But sometimes the garden throws tempting things your way, and you can't just stand back and let the umpire call the pitch. Gosh darn it, you're here to play ball!
Really, there are only two options in this story line: the plants live, or they die. Both stories are incredibly compelling. Wondering which will happen is the first step down the primrose path to chaos, to haphazard untidiness—or, in its own small way, to adventure, to the great (or even lesser, if there is such a thing) unknown.
When an unidentified plant began forming a lovely basal rosette at the trunk of one of my desert olives last year, I left it, on the theory that if it thrives out here (and isn't a goathead [a hateful plant whose Latin name I love: Tribulus terrestris] or a tumbleweed), it deserves some encouragement, if not outright applause. The rosette survived our freak winter cold and, come April, began to spring up, snaking its way alongside the tree trunk(s) until it is now taller than I am. For the last few weeks it has been poking stems beyond the tree branches into the sunshine, and apparently blooming its heart out—overnight. When I go inside for the evening at bedtime it is still in bud; by 6:00 in the morning the flowers are already beginning to close.
|Sadly, I can't get a much broader perspective without climbing|
over the wall into my neighbor's garden...
Because I just can't stand not knowing: what happens next?**
* To use the word "larger" about a 14' x 14' primary planting area is a little ridiculous to begin with, but you get the general idea.
** Of course, I could ask the question, "What would happen next if I did everything by the book and didn't take a lot of fools' risks?" But I won't.