Garden time

Life is a rocky path at best; never graded, paved, or plowed. At times it is a little smoother, other times the gaping holes seem to appear out of nowhere, ready to swallow me whole. Rough spots force me to slow down, really make sure that I’m going the right direction. In those seconds when time seems tortuous, I yearn for my garden. Its predictability, rejuvenation, and resurgence of life is my salvation.

Those first warm, spring days I am too hopeful. I plant seeds too early, push the limits of plant tolerance, and fret away the frosty nights. I know that if I just wait a few more weeks, the plants would be just as happy, healthy and tall as they are with all my early hovering but I can’t bring myself to wait. As I tuck the seeds in, water and watch them sprout, I can feel myself healing.

The garden becomes an expression of self. Some folks have meticulously hoed rows of beautiful plants. Others have containers packed with square-foot-gardening knowledge. If my garden is an expression of me, I’m a tangled mess! There is an organization there, but it is fluid and casual. Few defined edges exist, and the footpaths form from habit, not design. I begin with such noble intentions and plans, and yet it always devolves into a balancing act between wild and domestic, bordering on an organic nightmare, yet somehow still sustaining me all summer long.

And so, it is a good thing my garden is tenacious. Despite my intention to pay enough attention to it, I always neglect it. The goldenrod weaves itself through the fence, the dame’s rocket partners with the potatoes, and the speedwell creeps with reckless abandon through the asparagus. I love my garden, relish in its presence, depend on it for solace. I am grateful for its stubborn ability to bear fruit despite the invading army. The best part is that even though I neglect it horridly, it still takes care of me unconditionally.

I scaled back a bit this year, recognizing that perhaps smaller would be a bit more manageable. I didn’t start as many seeds as usual. I started them later. My hope is to get a lot of the plants that I didn’t start at the Plant Sale & Exchange at Audubon. It is always fun to see what other gardeners have started too many of, pick their brains about plants and their problems, and get your hands on some new varieties or flowers you haven’t yet tried.

The old-fashioned person that lives in me also loves the exchange part of the event. Before there were greenhouses on every corner, there were neighbors who gladly split rhubarb for you in exchange for some saplings, shared seeds, and dropped off clumps of daisies and peonies. There is something about exchanging plants that feels good almost as if you were stepping back in time to an era when plants were as valuable as gold. They were food, medicine, tonic, and drug. They were forage and bait and tradition. The exchange of plants seems like a spring ritual of which I have always somehow been a part.

If a garden is an expression of self then I hope the reverse is true. This year my goal is a garden that gets more attention, is better cared for, and a little more pulled together. Fewer unwanted weeds, less encroachment by unexpected guests, and strong, healthy veggies with plenty of room to grow. If I devote such time to my garden, perhaps the same qualities will reflect in the rather bumpy road called my life.

Audubon’s Plant Sale & Exchange is happening May 17, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. No fee, just bring plants in pots to exchange (there is a ticket system we use) or cash to get plants. We do reserve the right to refuse plants. There will be donations from local greenhouses who support the love of growing things. Stop in and add some new residents to your garden! It may just change your perspective.

Audubon is located at 1600 Riverside Road, just off Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. Trails and eagle viewing are open from dawn to dusk. The center is open daily from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. except Sundays when we open at 1 p.m. There is an admission fee for non-members but Sundays are free. Visit or call (716) 569-2345 for more information.

Sarah Hatfield is a senior naturalist at Audubon.