Finding Inspiration

A view of the city I love, from a friend’s community garden plot that I’m tending…

I’ve been looking back over the past few years, over where I’ve been, over where I wanted to be, over where I still want to be… I love gardening, plain and simple, but what is it about gardening that specifically appeals to me? What’s the draw?

I’m actually kinda new in the professional world of gardening, by many standards, but I’m very well studied at it. As time goes on, it’s interesting to watch just how much my past interweaves with my present, and I’m in awe at the possibilities of the future. It’s interesting how different paths actually turn out to be more parallel than you’d given them credit for. Almost everything I do, even if new to me, can tie in to something from my past. What a fascinating revelation!

Growing up in the 70’s as a single child with a hippie mom was, well, different. Makes for some interesting stories. We spent some years living off the grid, with bucket-in-a-tree showers, cooking by fire, and all that comes with that. Despite, as a kid, just wanting to live “normal” like everyone else, I now cannot be more grateful for having had the experience of living so connected to nature. It seems that my childhood shaped my future more than I was aware as I grew up and moved out on my own. My major jobs have all had some connection to my upbringing, whether it be gardening, health food stores, or sewing. It’s interesting to see how interconnected those worlds are, sometimes. I’ve lived here in SF for twenty years now, and have encountered the same circles of people repeatedly throughout that time, and continue to do so all the time. Love it.

Back to inspiration. It was just about six years ago that I started considering making a move into gardening as a way of earning my keep. Five years ago I started my CCSF classes in Horticulture, and it’s been an amazing ride, I tell ya. It’s so fulfilling to be holding the reins. I’d set myself a goal of earning a Certificate in Landscape Maintenance. But then I completed – absolutely wiped clean – the list of classes offered in the department. Besides that Cert, I also acquired one for Landscape Construction. Then Greenhouse Operations and Cut Flower Production. Then the one for Landscape Design. In the process, I’d started actual gardening, both at home and for clients. I’ve squeezed in a few designs. I got a great job at Flora Grubb Gardens, where I’m now Project Manager for the design team. I achieved my original goal, and then some, so what happens next?

I love learning. Love it. (One of the funnest parts of Hort, for me, is botanical nomenclature. Living off the grid meant lots of reading, and that bred a deep love of languages, and I geek out on the cognates and meanings in botanical Latin.) I think I’ve probably gotten a little addicted to going to school. In some ways, I wish I’d done school right after high school, but at the same time, I love where I’ve gotten myself, and my life path made this happen as it is. I’ve had some amazing mentors in my life, in all my careers and in my personal life, and I am so grateful to all of them for helping shape me. I continue to go to school and absorb all the knowledge they’ll put my way. I continue to garden. I continue to design. I continue to grow and learn and improve at the nursery.

Inspiration comes from many places, and since I’ve completed the Horticulture curricula it’s interesting to intertwine other fields into my practice. I needed a “filler” class a couple of years ago and took a short Ecology class, and that has spawned a whole new way of looking at things. Back to the hippie part of me. My knowledge and appreciation of gardening has been enhanced by the Earth Sciences classes I’ve been taking, and now I’m moving into another area of study – Anthropology – to see how I can connect that learning with what I know about gardening and how I approach it. I’ve been studying Geology, Geography, and Oceanography, and love knowing how gardening practices affect these fields, and how the ecosystems of these fields influence the regional possibilities in gardening. It was endlessly fascinating to study ocean currents and how they affect the land, for example, and dictate where things will grow. It was fascinating to study the physical characteristics of the planet and learn how that, too, shapes what we can do.

That planet-human interaction is interesting to me, too, so this semester I’m going into the studies of Anthropology. I look forward to connecting the dots of human migrations and plant migrations. I’m starting with Physical Anthropology, Geographic Anthropology, and History of Western Civilization to begin this exploration. Despite these being “different” studies from Hort, I can’t ignore my horticultural training, so every class I take I absorb from the perspective of how that affects gardening – or vice versa.

All these academic studies feel a little disconnected from the physical world of plants sometimes, so it’s great that I have the opportunity to be working directly with plants at the nursery and in gardening. I’ve really got my hands in every aspect of the industry, it seems sometimes. Last semester I started taking Ikebana classes (y’all have been following along with my Floristry posts), and I look forward to another semester of that. I’ll be getting my first of four Ikebana Certificates this semester, directly from the Sogetsu School of Ikebana in Tokyo. I’m really glad I’ve taken these classes. It stemmed from me posting Bloom Day posts, and going four months with nothing blooming in my garden. I wanted to start paying more attention to flowering plants, and Ikebana is great for that. You really learn to deconstruct and appreciate the beauty of a flower, I tell ya. Not to mention, learning how to place the components of an arrangement helps greatly with aesthetic placement in garden design. Nice tie-in.

So, the inspiration I am finding is many-fold and, yet, narrow at the same time. It’s still, at its heart, gardens. Moving forward, my focus is turning more to human-earth interactions over human-garden interactions, though gardens and gardening will always be at the root. I really want to work on improving and teaching my comprehension of ecological gardening. By no means do I intend to be preachy, just informative. It’s about making appropriate decisions in how we approach gardening – appropriate for us in the now and in the long term. Everything (everything) we, as a people, do has a direct affect on the plant world, and we are directly affected by how that plant world reacts to our actions. We, too, are part of the environment. It may be a fragile place, but it is phenomenally resilient, and I want to know all I can and share what I learn.

Bring on inspiration!

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