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Gardens Offer Freedom of Expression

By Loni Kemp, June 19, 2023

Members of the Harmony Garden Club attend their annual progressive dinner and garden tour. (Photo by Loni Kemp)

Gardens Offer Freedom of Expression

HARMONY — A continuing fascination with gardening is that it remains one of the few truly individual endeavors. Each gardener picks up a spade and proceeds to create something that resembles their own personal vision of what a garden ought to be. No two gardens are ever alike.

The members of our 40-year-old Harmony Garden Club have been learning together about garden topics for years, yet that knowledge is put to use by each member to create their garden as their own original personal statement. 

At the peak of summer, we have a progressive dinner and garden tour to satisfy our curiosity about each other’s gardens, and to taste the early harvest. Fresh-picked foods make for an exciting dinner. Herbal teas and edible flowers jazz up the summer soups, salads and desserts made from the garden’s bounty.

As I think back over past tours, I was inspired by one woman’s garden on the edge of Harmony. It is a maze of paths through hedges and vines, where you come upon surprise garden rooms, each featuring different flowers and benches, inviting you to sit for a while.

Perennial flowers offer nature at its artistic best. (Photo by Loni Kemp)

Another’s classic Victorian home is surrounded by intricate flower beds under shady maples, with a gazebo and a summer kitchen fronted by patterned herb beds.

Retired to a cozy little farmhouse in the country, another member made a cottage garden filled with flowers and shrubs, all under the canopy of the ancient forest.

A quarter acre of deeply mulched vegetables under a windmill crowned with morning glories is the creation of a former farm girl.

A Master Gardener’s farmyard was graced for years with a rose garden, using a method of deep planting for winter survival, which she invented. She passed away years ago.

My own garden has evolved over forty years, using twelve original beds for annual food plants, plus ever-expanding curvaceous borders filled with perennial flowers, shrubs and trees, with native woods on the south and a sheep pasture to the north. 

I think it is truly commendable that the discipline of gardening has remained largely the province of amateurs. Despite the fact that plant scientists and landscape architects are available for help, there is no recognized class of garden professionals whom home gardeners must obey. Most of us just talk to the clerks at the nursery, do it how Grandma did it, look at catalogs or simply start digging to see what happens. There are no official standards, no inspectors, and no right or wrong methods to be followed.

Lettuce and other greens are pictured in a garden bed providing a source of food for a member’s family. (Photo by Loni Kemp)

Of course, nature does impose its own rules, but the rules are ever changing. Every gardener from the youngest to the most experienced is constantly responding to new situations. I find that the challenges that most drive me insane in my garden, whether I think I’ve solved them or not, tend to eventually simply phase out, or at least become tolerable. 

Gophers, moles, voles, deer, rabbits, bugs, raccoons and groundhogs: Just when I think one species is going to win the battle, the problem simply goes away! The lesson learned is good for one’s self-confidence in this day and age of the experts: I am the only expert in my own garden. No one else really has all the answers either, and certainly not for my special corner of mother earth.

In this high tech world dominated by global corporations, specialized expertise, and rampant consumerism, many of us find deep satisfaction in creating a living garden. Each garden reflects that gardener’s own ideas of beauty, a very specific local ecosystem not quite like anyone else’s, and the give and take with nature that puts us closely in touch with the earth.

© Loni Kemp, 2023



Loni Kemp worked for forty years bringing organizations together to create sustainable agriculture, renewable energy and a healthy environment. She gardens and forages at her home near Canton.

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