I am a gardener. Always have been from the first memories I have of finding small bugs and worms in the dirt, and moving tiny plants around my backyard. I adore the smell of dirt and green.
I was asked in a group meeting yesterday to describe my favorite smell. Most of the rest of my team talked about the smell of their mom’s kitchen or puppies and babies. I instantly thought of the scent of green, growing things—that tangy, rich smell of dirt and plants and decay that permeates every lush garden. I love a garden that is a slightly overgrown tangled mess of plants, with vines twisting around other plants, small insects scurrying under decaying leaf mold. I want my garden to be like the one described in Burnett’s The Secret Garden, where ancient trees and sculptures create a magical background for dreaming and play.
I have found that here in Iowa, most gardeners go for a neat and tidy garden with well laid out plants in neat rows separated by even paths of bark mulch or straw. These gardens remind me of kids in schoolhouses all neatly arrayed and attentive to a hawkeyed teacher.
Yeah, I was never that kid and I was never that teacher.
I feel like a secret revolutionary in my neighborhood of trimmed monocultured lawns and red bark mulched beds. I surreptitiously seed my lawn with a riot of low growing wildflowers like clover, dandelions, and johnny jump-ups. I refuse to mow under the bird feeder and instead encourage the sunflower seeds that the enthusiastic birds fling out of the feeder. Each morning I inspect the volunteer greenery that is sprouting between my plantings of marguerites, elderberries, and drift roses to see if I have any native plants that will encourage butterflies or the bees to visit my yard.
The gardener before me also loved this garden. She was more orderly than me, but the lush plantings of hot pink peonies and the honeysuckle tell me that she loved this garden as I do. A garden is like a legacy between residents of a house. Each gardener leaves her touch on the land and her fingerprint that tells the next gardeners what she loved most. With each plant, I add my joy and spirit to this bit of dirt along the eastern strip of Iowa.