Let Your Garden’s Freak Flag Fly

A kindred gardener tuned me into a series on Netflix called “Big Dreams Small Spaces” in anticipation of me turning soil in my new city garden.

At first I tried to ration out the season, but as so often happens with Netflix, the ration card soon flew out the window after a couple of evenings and I binge watched the episodes instead.

The host of the series is apparently Britain’s most beloved gardener, Monty Don. Even though I hadn’t heard of him before, it didn’t take long for this Canadian to understand his appeal and become a fan. He not only exudes garden know-how but a gentle, kind, down-to-earth spirit.

Each segment of the show follows two different gardeners in two locations, each bent on creating a garden of their dreams in a small space, armed with only a few sketches and a handful of loose ideas on exactly how to make that happen.

Enter Monty Don.

Britain’s favourite gardener is always full of interest, encouragement and tact.

However, this doesn’t mean he’s afraid to express his own opinions and reroute budding gardeners and their plans, if necessary.

One of the episodes featured a woman whose sister had been killed in a tragic accident when her car was hit by a train. She had recently received a small “compensation” check on her sister’s behalf and wanted to use it to create a special garden in her backyard.

As spaces go, hers was among the largest in the series and she had big dreams to match.

Among the many items she wanted for her garden was a Mud Head.

“A Mud Head?” asked Monty.

She produced a picture from The Lost Gardens of Heligan.

She went on to say how she had always wanted one in her garden.

Why? Who knows why certain things attract some and confuse others? In the case of the Mud Head, Monty fell in the latter category. He suggested she install a topiary in the shape of a head instead.

She reluctantly agreed and I…well, I fell apart.

It was the strangest reaction.

The magnitude of it alarmed even myself.

“Noooo,” I actually shouted at the TV, “Don’t give up your Mud Head! If you want a Mud Head you should have a Mud Head! Make your Mud Head!”

Darcy, who had given up several innings of Blue Jays in spring training so I could watch Monty transform a couple backyards, also looked alarmed.

Very alarmed.

“What are you saying? Do you…do you want a Mud Head in our new yard?”

“No, but look at how much she does. So she should have one.”

Darcy relaxed back into his chair, his initial alarm dialed down to mild concern at my overreaction.

I can’t really explain why I reacted the way I did.

I will admit I love gardening for a variety of reasons. Mostly it’s the connection to the earth and an opportunity to be part of nature’s magic. But sometimes it’s because-how do I put this-I enjoy feeling in control.

There. I said it.

I love how I can dream up a vision and through hard work, careful planning and a heaping dose of Nature’s generous magic, watch it come to fruition. I find that enormously satisfying.

Oh sure, sometimes Nature puffs up her cheeks and blows the whole thing to smithereens. Sometimes she dumps hail on the party, sends in the aphids or unleashes an unexpected cold snap, all as a comeuppance to remind me who really is running the show. But for the most part, Nature has allowed me to happily muck about in the soil and see my dreams come to life. Eventually.

The idea of anyone leaning over my shoulder and bringing down a giant eraser on a key part of my gardening vision makes me…well, it makes me a bit wild. Clearly, I’ve been locked up in this apartment for too long.

Anyway, that was the reaction I had to the loss of Mud Head.

But then something wonderful happened.

The gardener chose to ignore Monty’s advice! She decided she would have her Mud Head after all.

And I, sitting in my living room chair, in my apartment in Canada, clear across the Atlantic ocean and thousands of miles west of her garden, cheered on her decision as if it were my own.

I watched as her mother, leaning on her cane, offered encouragement peppered with concern over what Monty was going to say, as the Mud Man took shape beneath her daughter’s determined hands.

The result?

Well the result was bloody amazing.

All of him, from his spiky grass hair, to his yogurt-infused moss-covered cheekbones, to his clay pot eyebrows arched over a pair of succulent eyeballs. He’s a feature to behold through and through. And don’t even get me started on his ears. Take a look at his ears and tell me you don’t agree!

When Monty returned to the garden and spotted the Mud Man-this glaring omission of his advice-he simply smiled.

When the gardener told him the Mud Man blended in with the rest of the garden, he laughed and assured her it certainly did not. But then again, I suspect that was sort of the point.

The gardener goes on to say how every time she steps outside, she looks at her “Mud Head” and he makes her smile.

In other words he’s perfect and in the end, Monty understands this.

It’s seeing things like Mud Man that makes me love seeing other people’s gardens.

Not to see what everyone does the same, but to see what everyone does different. I love the things that pop out at you. The things that lift a garden up and make it the gardener’s own. I love seeing their dreams come to fruition.

Only ten more days until we take possession of our new house and garden. And despite the snow still on the ground-and more in the forecast for week’s end-tomorrow is the first day of spring and I can’t wait.