Thursday, January 27, 2011

Taking it Out Front: Gardening in the Public Eye


Gardening in the relative seclusion of the backyard is one thing. Taking gardening out front is sometimes a brave act of self-expression that is not for the faint of heart!


One bright, sunny day in early summer, I was out in my front garden attempting to prune a wildly overgrown forsythia into submission. The afternoon was hot with the first flush of summer humidity. Without much thought beyond comfort, I had dressed in navy shorts and an old worn tank top.

As the story unfolds you will see, that this was perhaps shortsighted for a number of reasons. First among them: the branches of the uncooperative bush was fighting back by poking and scratching my bare arms and legs.

When I paused for a breather, I looked over to see a compact car packed with teenage boys had come to stop at the red light at the corner. Through the car's open window I could hear their boisterous laughter and fragments of conversation overtop of some rather loud music. While stopped for the light, there was little to occupy their attention, so their gaze turned in my direction. Then one of them, no doubt egged on by the society of his peers, yelled out a very rude comment, the kind of demeaning observation that only a cocky teenage boy would dare say in public.


How does one respond to such a brazen remark without endangering one's dignity even further? Even if you are quick enough to fire-off a sharp tongued zinger, it would probably only up the anti and escalate an already unpleasant situation. After all it doesn't take much mental agility to be cruel.

Mid-summer Tiger lily

Let's face it, as a society we take particular interest in not only making judgements, but sharing our observations, however impolite. Wether its tuning in to see who will be voted off the island this week or calling in to vote for your favorite singer or dancer on this season's latest slate of reality TV, we love to participate in passing judgement.

You would think that one's home and garden would be an oasis from the mad world of snap judgements. Certainly this may be true for a secluded back garden, but take it out front on to a very busy street corner like mine and you quickly discover that you are the unwilling center of attention for every bored motorist passing by.


Gardening is my escape from day to day concerns. Though I regard it as my own personal oasis, when walking into my garden on our busy corner, I sometimes feel as if I have just stepped on to a theatrical stage.

I don't want to worry about clothes, hair and makeup when I garden, but it is hard not to be self-conscious when people gawk and stare as if the simple act of deadheading a rose bush was the most fascinating thing they ever saw.

God forbid you forget yourself for a moment and bend over to pull out a weed without having carefully considered the view you might be presenting to the world!

Now you may respond that I should be flattered by all this attention. No, not really! Just imagine if you could ask an animal at the zoo if he is flattered by all the gawkers. If he doesn't eat you for the sheer audacity of your question, he would tell you that there is nothing flattering about being watched.


Sometimes as the only sentinel at a busy intersection, I also find that motorists expect you to be freely willing to dispense driving directions. When I car slows, I now find myself preparing a mental map of local roads and calling up the addresses of popular destinations like the discount chicken outlet several streets over.


Seriously, it is beyond me how someone can leave the house with no idea whatsoever of how to get to their destination. How many times have I had to deal with a motorist on Venus who wants to get to Pluto. So often, I have been tempted to say impatiently to the lost motorist, "It's hopeless! Retrace your steps and go home. Then start over, this time with a map!" It has gotten to the point that, in order to deal with the litany of lost souls, we have begun to store local street maps in a wicker basket on the front porch. Believe you me, I have considered sending an invoice the local tourist authority for services rendered!

Late summer bloomer.

There are also garden questions from passing motorists. One woman, a local school bus driver who had stopped for the red light called out to ask the name of one of my roses. With the seconds clicking rapidly by before the light went green, I felt like I was on a game show: Name that Rose!  With the panic of the contestant knowing the buzzer was about to ring, I quickly replied that I had forgotten the name and would have to dig out my plant list and look it up. In the seconds before the light turned green, I did manage to give her the name of the nursery, hoping that she might look up the rose herself. Well the very next day, didn't she roll down her window again and ask to know if I had looked up the rose's name. Of course I was polite, but I felt like replying that I had no idea I was working to a deadline.

Fall mums in the front garden.

Not only am I expected to dispense free gardening advice, I am also expected to be willing to hand out free stuff. By way of example, one woman after a few brief pleasantries, practically demanded to know if I had any "suckers". Another woman, who saw me moving a large perennial clump, stopped her car to ask me if I was throwing the plant out and could she have it?

For me, generosity is not something you ask for or expect, it is something you receive.

Frost crystals on one of the roses.

Now, I have to balance this long rant to say, that I have also had wonderful feedback on my garden. There has been so many times when I have been favored with the ultimate comment. Motorists have taken the time to pull their car to the side of the road and have crossed the busy street just to tell me how much they enjoyed seeing the garden's parade of summer flowers. In particular, I remember one older gentleman who wanted to shake my hand and tell me that my garden brought him "great joy" every time he passed by. I was very touched and flattered.

35 comments:

  1. Jennifer - I had a laugh reading your post today. I used to garden solely in a front yard and, chicken that I am, when I heard people approaching I would run and hide in the house or behind a tree. Many people were kind but as you hilariously point out, I was often not dressed 'nicely enough' and people often wanted directions, restaurant reviews, housing prices, etc.

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  2. Dear Jennifer, I am with the aged passer by who said that your front garden gives him great joy every time he passes. My heart would certainly lift to see such a wonderfully colourful and artistic display. I despair of British front gardens which increasingly are becoming mere concrete car parks without any sign of vegetation apart from a roving weed.

    So, dear Jennifer, do not be put off . Your front garden is an inspiration to us all!!

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  3. That one, sincere comment should make up for all the rest -- I think your garden is spectacular and I'm sure it gives joy to many passersby. :)

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  4. Hi Jennifer ... LOVE YOUR POST! Now, I must confess. I am one who has gawked at your house and front garden NUMEROUS times over the years! As a matter of fact, during a boring Sunday or two, I've actually purposely taken a drive past your garden so I could look at it (before Blogging)! Once I even took a detour with my Mom to show off your garden to her. Although I've never seen you in the garden, if I did, I would be looking past you or around you to get a view of your glorious flowers! You know, it's a showstopper, and for anyone who enjoys the beauty of a well kept and abundant garden, well, we just can't help but stare! xox

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  5. Hi, I don't live anywhere near you but if I did, I would certainly stop and stare. The garden is beautiful and bursting with life. Just do what I do, stand up and wave.

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  6. Jennifer oh so many of these things have happened to me. I laughed out loud... I too find gardening an oasis from daily concerns , one forgets things to just appreciate the beauty around. I have finally given up bending over at my advanced age and find I tend to sit on the ground to weed and edge.. even that brings comments from the passerbys.... wonder if they miss the bent over view?

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  7. Your garden looks amazing! so many beautiful flowers. Love how the fence looks with so many blooms around it

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  8. Wow, you have to put up with a lot! I admire your determination to have a beautiful front garden for so many to enjoy (and your grace in putting up with everyone). I am at the end of a cul de sac, so it's quiet in my front yard, but I have to keep my eye out for one ultra talky neighbor. If I see her come out of her house, I have to invent tasks out back or in the house or I will be stuck with her for hours. I don't think I could garden so publicly as you do!

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  9. Well you've given me a reason to pause and think...one of my goals this year is to turn my "builder" landscape out front into a perennial garden. If I go forth with my plans I hope my garden is half as lovely as yours!

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  10. Your garden is just lovely, and you are brave to share it with a world where teenagers roam! Seriously, I imagine there are many people who have never said it, but enjoy your garden immensely. In my own town, I can think of a couple of "out by the street" gardens, and to my shame, I've never stopped to tell the gardeners how much pleasure their hard work gives.

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  11. As you have just learned, there are consequences to every thing that we do, especially when we choose to place a perennial flower garden on our front lawns. I admire your courage.
    The world would be a better place if every ones front yards were as beautiful as your own.

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  12. That has got to be one of the nicest front yard gardens I have seen. Forget the bad stuff. No doubt, the boys were showing off to each other. Just realize that your garden brings a bit of happiness to many more people than you know.

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  13. I garden front side, too. I totally understand! I hope to plant a couple of street side trees to break up the view of my back side. I am intimidated to garden and weed out front and restrict it to weekdays only if I can help it. And to make matters more embarrassing I am always muttering to myself. Bigger flowers to duck behind - there's a strategy! Beautiful scenes of your garden - no wonder it stops traffic.

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  14. Jennifer, loved your story and can relate totally. I live one house from the corner off of a busy street and have had people stop and ask if they cut cut some hydrangeas. One woman parked her car in the middle of the street,
    sandwich in hand, rang my bell to ask what types of plants I had under my pear tree.

    So, on one had I guess it is a compliment and on the other sometimes gives you the feeling that it is a public park. Many years ago someone walked up my driveway and cut a bouquet of marigolds - I guess because I wasn't cutting them!

    Eileen

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  15. Teenage boys are so brazen! They will say anything in public. Your front gardens are just beautiful! I always run out to the yard, forgetting how I look. My husband laughs at what I even wear sometimes.

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  16. I must admit I have the opposite reaction to yours. I own and run a shade plant nursery at my home, which has a two acre display garden that customers can tour. When customers set off to view the gardens and then reappear shortly, I want to send them back to take the time to truly appreciate them. Of course, I am used to having strangers here and dress accordingly (LOL).

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  17. I am glad you have gotten good feedback, as your front garden is incredible!!

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  18. Your front garden is phenomenal!!!! WOW!!! I also have perennials in my front, although not as many as you, and have had people stop and stare at me as I work. It's bizarre and your analogy of a zoo animal is perfect! My gardening "outfits" are picked for how functional they are, as opposed to being based on style, and I've had people suddenly realize the sweaty mess puttering around the garden is their child's science teacher!! At that point they're either friendly and curious or run away screaming.

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  19. You probably would not like me in your town then because I'd be right over there talking with you about your garden. Course once we talked we'd relate and it would be all okay methinks. Of course I totally understand the self consciousness that comes from gardening in a front yard. Yikes on the boys! Best just to ignore things like that but how wonderful the bus driver cared enough to talk to you!! I too live on a busy street and rarely does anyone say anything to me-sometimes I wish they would then remember I am in my yuck clothes, hot and sweaty so no thanks! But truly, your garden just begs to be talked about. How lucky for your community they can enjoy your frontyard!! I love it!

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  20. Your pictures are beautiful! I wish I had such talent! I say pop in some earplugs or headphones and ignore the world. Don't let anybody impede on your happiness.

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  21. Your front garden is so absolutely gorgeous that I would be tempted to do a great deal of drive by gawking. And I might be tempted to ask if I could take a picture. And I hope I would tell you that it brought me great joy. Unfortunately there are many who never learned to be courteous. I'm with Jenn - pop in the earplugs and ignore them!

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  22. Lovely garden. You should be proud. I agree with the others who've posted, don't listen to the negative, concentrate on the positive and keep on weeding.

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  23. I enjoyed reading your post and laughing. Hey, just yell...Go Away, I'm Gardening! (my blog) Well,I don't think I could actually say that, but it is what I'm thinking.
    This is my first visit to your blog and your garden is lovely!
    I'm going to be working on my front garden this spring...glad to get the heads up. :)

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  24. So glad to have discovered your blog, thank you for visiting mine. Your front garden looks stunning, and you take amazing photographs.

    I am lucky in that we live in a quiet cul-de-sac so not as exposed when gardening out the front, but your post did make me smile. I find I am much less eager to garden out the front on a weekend when more people are about, precisely because I then have to think more about what I wear and remember to be careful not to show too much when I bend over. I have lost count of the number of times I have gone back in to the house after gardening and realised I have been catching up with a neighbour sporting a large muddy patch on my nose from repeatedly pushing my glasses back on!

    As to the constant request for directions, I think I would be far less gracious than you clearly are. As to people who have the gall to ask for plants or plant identification as if by right, I am speechless.

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  25. First of all you have a lovely front garden! And I know exactly the same issues you are facing. Our house is on the corner of one of the busier neighborhood streets and on the city bus line, and the garden is very front and center. Over the years it has been used for empty beer and liqour bottle dispospal, birth control disposal, several people's personal cut flower shop and one woman was caught actually digging up my plants. However, this is more than balanced by the hours of conversation with strangers on foot and from car windows about the garden, how much they like it, what something is and so forth. My fenced back yard is the refuge.

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  26. I thought that it was about time I jump in here and say how very much I have enjoyed reading everyone's comments and how much fun it has been to hear about your, often hilarious, experiences. It is certainly true that all the negatives of front yard gardening are far outweighed by all the all the positve feedback. I especially enjoy meeting and talking other gardeners when I am standing out there, front and center in my own garden.

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  27. It's a nice change to see a blooming garden in winter. Beautiful images!

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  28. Your garden is just spectacular Jennifer. I can see why so many people stop you, gawk, etc. It's obvious you show it a lot of love. I can totally relate to what you're saying ~ my biggest bed is in front of my house (no where near as impressive as yours) and I'm still a bit self conscious about being out there. Afraid to bend over, etc., etc. Sometimes I want to run out in my pj's then remember I better not. Many of my neighbors stop by to talk to me when I'm working and although I enjoy their company, so many times, I just want to relax and work in solitude. Oh well, what to do? I need to take notes from you.

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  29. Your front garden is truly spectacular. You should be extremely proud!! What an awful thing to have happened with those rude boys. I live on quite a busy road, and like garden time to be a sanctuary of sorts, so for the first 7 years or so all of my gardening efforts were in the backyard. When I ran out of planting room I had to venture to the front (I also wanted to spruce it up a little). I do enjoy having some blooms all the way out to the sidewalk, but don't enjoy gardening out there nearly as much. Weeding, pruning, watering etc..does put us in some comprimising positions at times!!! (Now I am curious about what variety of rose was of such interest. ;) )

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  30. Rebecca,
    The roses that generated so much interest are called Marjorie Fair. Everyone assumes they are some odd sort of hydrangea.
    Again, thanks everyone for your comments and encouragement.
    Jennifer

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  31. Thank you for the good laugh. I stand amazing at the audacity of all these people. Reading your post I am even more thankful I live in a quiet, very rural subdivision. All that being said, you have an amazing front garden. If I lived in your neck of the woods I would drive by daily just to take in such a wonderful sight.

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  32. So much real substance here, Jennifer! It made for not only interesting reading, but was captivating and thought-provoking as well. I, too, live on a busy road, but as we're 'in the middle' cars just race past. And, we're surrounded by a high wall on all sides, with the only visible bit being through the driveway gate. No chance of gawpers bothering me, thank goodness!

    I'd had no conception of what it might be like to live on a busy corner intersection, with a robot.

    It's a shame you've had to occasionally endure such rudeness, whilst blissfully going about your own business and enjoying your own little haven, but you've certainly managed to deal with it in a very dignified and pragmatic manner and, hopefully, by putting it out there, your words will help to 'make a difference' and serve as a lesson to those who might need reminding.

    Your summer garden is absolutely BEAUTIFUL! A riot of colour and clear evidence of a passionate and loving gardener. I can quite believe that the majority of passing motorists would derive great pleasure from seeing it! And, I would most definitely be one of those, of whom I'm sure there are plenty, who regularly plan their route just so they can enjoy a sight of your wonderful creation!!!

    Keep doing what you're doing Jennifer, and pay no heed to those few, thoughtlessly rude people out there!

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  33. What a great post and a terrific read. Gardening is a solace for me too - to be who I am among my friends the plants. Your garden is stunning. I'm still working on mine, but yours is exactly the kind I had in mind. I like the idea of a front garden too - keep up the wonderful work you are doing and all that matters is that you are enjoying every moment of it.

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  34. Your garden is gorgeous and your pictures are phenomenal! I'm hoping to have something half as beautiful to share this spring. Thanks!

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  35. Your garden is so beautiful! As a newcomer, I've only seen winter pics, but am going around to the blogs I follow and looking at January posts from last year.
    I do not worry about what folks think or say, really. I feel great, I do good things, I am comfortable with who I am.
    Boys will be boys, that much, I am sure of.
    You can be so proud of your front garden, it is spectacular! I will look forward to looking at more posts from the past!
    I am a follower, now! May I ask if you would follow back?

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