Look Around, Pay Attention, See the Beauty
by Jack McKinnon
July 2012— I was sitting on the bench in front of Half Moon Bay Nursery on a Monday. The nursery was unusually busy for a weekday. My client hadn’t arrived yet for our walk-through, and traffic on Highway 92 was trickling by at a medium pace. I noticed the Fremontodendron in bloom, the roses starting to bud, the veggies stocked and ready to be planted, and the birds singing somewhere nearby.
This month’s tips will be about looking around, paying attention to what is truly beautiful, and enjoying summer here in Northern California. I will try to lighten you up as I have been so that maybe, one day, you can sit on a bench and realize how good this life really is.
1. You probably think I am going to recommend buying a bench. I have a better idea. Find a bench that already exists and stop for a few minutes this week and sit on it. Seniors have this one down, but why wait? Take the opportunity whenever you see a bench. It is a good exercise.
2. Check out variegated plants. Variegated usually means the leaf is green with a yellow edge. Sometimes the yellow is different and this is where variegation gets interesting. Here are a few plants to check out, either in nurseries, your garden book or online: Fuchsia magelanica gracilis ‘Aurea,’ Ficus pumilia variegata, Vinca minor ‘Sterling Silver,’ Berberis thumbergia ‘Aurea Nana’ and Weigela florida ‘Variegata’ — my favorite plant right now.
3. Buy yourself a new plant — a plant variety you have never had before. Even seasoned horticulturists can do this. There are so many to choose from. It doesn’t have to be expensive and you don’t have to have a green thumb. A small succulent can cost as little as $2 and require almost no care. Please do water it at least once every two weeks, though.
4. Watch a gopher for 10 minutes. There are thousands of them on the Coastside. I have no doubts they are watching us all the time. If you hate gophers, then watch one for 20 minutes. This may bring about two things. The first one is you may learn something about gophers that will help you discourage them from your garden. And the second is this: That gopher will think twice about sticking around that person who always stares at it.
5. Pull a weed for somebody else without that person knowing it. If you get caught, it doesn’t count. This is a good exercise in observation of your neighbors’ poor gardening skills and also in your goodwill toward them. If everybody pulled everybody else’s weeds for them and didn’t get found out, the world would be a much better place.
6. Listen to birds singing. This is quickly becoming a lost art. If you cannot identify the bird, there are plenty of resources in the library. There are also recordings and people that can help you to learn. Check out California Bird Talk on the Web. Listening to birds can create powerful memories and bring back good ones. I heard a mockingbird the other day that reminded me of visiting my grandmother in Fresno 50 years ago.
7. Give a woman a flower. This is a basic exercise that everybody can practice. It doesn’t have to be a rose, although roses are nice; it can be a daphne or a gardenia or whatever. The first flower I gave my wife, before we married, was a cluster of forget-me-nots. The marriage lasted 10 years. It must have worked.
8. Take a garden tour. It doesn’t have to be fancy and you don’t have to enter the property to enjoy a garden. Decide on a neighborhood you are interested in exploring and invite a friend for a walk. I do this all the time with clients in my garden coaching business. We talk about the designs, the plants, what works and what doesn’t. It is a great way to learn what is going on in the gardening world. You do not have to bother anybody, it doesn’t cost anything and you get exercise, too.
9. Ask a gardener to lunch. You buy the lunch, and be clear that you want to talk gardening. Most gardeners I know love to talk gardening. There is always something new going on — and who knows, you may have something you can share as well.
10. Notice garden art. It is very different from other fine art. For one thing, it usually has a serenity about it. Often it anchors a location in the garden. It draws the eye and complements the surrounding flora and fauna. If it is simple and placed well, it can be quite profound. Other times it can set a theme for conversation, contemplation or inspiration. There was a Bufano sculpture of St. Francis at the Sunset gardens that I will never forget.
Jack McKinnon is a garden coach who worked for Sunset’s gardens for 12 years. Call him at 650-455-0687 or visit his website, www.jackthegardencoach.com.