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Finding Abundance: English Cottage Gardens, Morning Glories, and Weeds

2013 July 12
by Ann L. Carter

As the temperature heads toward 100 degrees, I swear I won’t walk the dogs.  But I am easily suckered by guilt brought on by their two upturned drooling faces, and so walk we do.  We go a half mile down the gravel road that runs by my house and then turn onto a dirt road for another quarter mile till we get to a lone mulberry tree.   That’s where I’m ready to be halfway through with our sticky morning exercise.  Not that I don’t get something from it.  I often daydream along the way. This morning the inspiration came from a picture I have hanging near the mudroom door.  It’s of a house surrounded by what I think of as an English cottage garden.  There’s a wonderful assortment of flowers everywhere, of all colors and heights and types.  I like this picture because that is the garden I want to have.  I want to be sitting in the middle of it, in a wicker lounge chair.  I am there with my two dogs (who never run away) lying beside me.  I have a novel (Barbary Pym or Margaret Drabble) open in my hand.  I’m wearing a soft cotton top and skirt (not at all damp from sweat).   And a gentle breeze (bug free) strokes my sun kissed face.  Ah…….what a heavenly place that would be, I think, as I tug Kosmo away from sniffing raccoon scat and wonder why Jack is being so uncharacteristically brave by barking at the neighbor’s cows.   But here I am, on the prairie, where I often feel despair with my gardening attempts. 

My father taught me to love gardening.  He and I would pour over a Burbee seed catalog every February and carefully make a selection, always hopeful that his flowers would look like the ones in the photos.  What he ended up with in our yard in Topeka were little beds of pretty flowers, but hardly lush or abundant and certainly not up to those in the catalog.  My mother liked to comment that it was a lot of effort for so few results, yet she still had her favorites.  Many days she would point out the morning glories climbing up the metal poles of the clothesline.  And she often asked me to pick some nasturtiums to put in a glass sugar bowl for the dining table.  From her I came to especially love these two flowers.  I can’t seem to grow nasturtiums, though every year I buy a packet of seeds, thinking of those delicate orange bouquets on the checkered plastic tablecloth.  Morning glories, however, seem to like me or at least the places I live.  And they come the closest to making me feel like I could be living in that English cottage.  This all started when I lived in town:


My Year for Morning Glories


It seems to be my year

for morning glories.

Three starter plants

from Hort Services–

blue, white, and red.

The white doing best,

reminding me of

Easter Lilies.


in the hundreds,

blues and purples,

candy-striped when closed.

I dug some up early on,

but only half-heartedly.

Now those left are wrapped around

most everything–

zinnias, cone flowers, black-eyed Susans,

the training wheels on Helen’s bike,

the front porch railing

(this last at my suggestion).


Wondering if the other plants

are looking weary

from lack of rain

or slow strangulation,

I go out to clip away

the twisting vines,

but still without much conviction.


It’s the wildness that I like.

And the way they greet each morning

with pure pleasure

at the abundance

of their own beauty.


 Sept. 2000


When I moved to the country, I established morning glories that have reseeded and spread every year, winding their way around sunflowers and rose bushes and fence posts,  and when I see them,  my spirits lift.  But to tell the whole story, there is one other area in my yard that has that sense of lushness.  It is my vegetable garden, though not for any reason most would envy.  In spite of my best intentions, year after year, I let the weeds grow up, entangling and covering up my cucumbers and tomatoes and squash.  I never get around to mulching, I hate to use chemicals, and by late June it’s just too darn hot to pull out all the things I didn’t plant.  And so what I have by now looks more like a what-not-to-do, or as a friend recently said after viewing, “Wow, I feel better about mine!”

I used to avoid looking too closely at this patch by July, but this year I changed my mind.  I have begun to see it less as a failed attempt to grow food and more as a place where anything gets to grow.  Every morning, as I make my “rounds” to all the flower and vegetable beds, as my father used to say, I stop last at this spot.  I step knee deep into the green foliage to check on the one cucumber that’s growing bigger, to pick the last of the sweet pea pods on vines almost covered up.   And then I stand back and look at the whole of it.

It’s the wildness that I like.  It’s the great abundance of variety—of shape and height and wonderfully weedy blossoms.  It’s this willingness to persist over the heat and drought and bugs.  It’s the ability to survive and even thrive in the dog days of my Kansas summers.





One Response Post a comment
  1. Barbara Gottschalk permalink
    July 14, 2013

    I like your garden–and the wildness. Very English country. You would hate our back yard. Cemil elaborately manicures everything and cuts and primps just so. And the front yard? It’s cleaner than the inside of the house (which I’m responsible for.) Every time I try to suggest something a little more random he resists. Oh well.

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