In Missouri where I grew up, the soil was fertile but the weather was unfriendly. It was hot and humid in the summer and cold and snowy in the winter. Plants grew well so long as they could take the winters. There was usually enough rain all year round so that irrigation wasn’t necessary. You plant the seed and things grow. I didn’t do much gardening in my youth but what I did do turned out to be easy. I spend most of my adult life in Southern California where the weather was close to perfect and the soil was crap. You needed to amend the soil which was humus deprived and you always had to add water since Socal is a desert. I learned to cope with the limitations of soil and water and loved the climate. Because of the wonderful weather I could grow just about any plant I wanted. Soil amendments and water were easily added. When I moved to our house in Nocal, I had to adjust again. More water and extreme temperatures and, instead of soil, rocks. As I think about it, my gardens mirror my life and it’s stages.
As a child, everything was easy and possible. My folks were encouraging and supportive. Nothing much was impossible or hard. As a result I didn’t struggle or work at anything and it all worked out pretty well. I didn’t think much about life or anything else. It wasn’t until I finally left college and began to work that I discovered that life was a different proposition than my childhood. I learned that I had to make some effort to make my life progress. I had to sell myself to employers. I had to earn promotions and stay employed. I had to learn new skills. My college degrees put me in the running but they didn’t get me jobs or more pay. Once I got the right system going, I could make things work.
After I retired but wanted to continue working and earning my life and success changed again. I had to find new employment or value for myself in a new world. It wasn’t easy to put roots into an unfriendly new environment and when I did, there wasn’t much there to support them. Temperatures could run both hot and cold and I had to adjust and adapt. Even when I did there wasn’t much support or help and it was easy to flail and fail.
I see the home stretch of my life as making a new garden in the rocks and extreme temperatures. You have to be so much more careful to keep from failing. When you do fail, you have fewer resources to support and maintain you. At this stage I hope that I am in the smarter not harder phase. I hope that the lessons I have learned and the skills I have developed will keep me on the path to success. I don’t have the energy I had when I was younger so I can’t rely on force to help me prevail.
My rock pile garden is like that. I am no longer trying to grow horticultural superstar spectaculars. I just want a garden that look good without pampering. I select plants carefully for their resilience and I don’t keep worrying about failures. I will try new plants and techniques but I won’t be fixated on any particular plant as defining my success. I will embrace the good ones and plant more. In my life I will try new things as well but I won’t get hung up on a particular success. I will embrace any success, however, and look for more.