How Landscaping Is Like Writing

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Yesterday, when I “should” have been blogging (according to my post schedule), I was digging large holes in my front yard.

And filling them with bushes!

Have I mentioned that nothing makes me so happy as growing things? I love gardening. I love cheering on my perennials as they poke back up, fragile and new. I love buds opening on trees. I even love pruning branches and watering/fertilizing roots and guiding vines and all that. 

I have a definite fixation with my favorite plants. The only thing stopping me from having more of them is budgetary restrictions that force me to add them gradually.

Last year we did our own backyard makeover, complete with patio, pergola, trellises, furniture, and added landscaping. This year, it’s the front yard’s turn, starting with the bushes I put in yesterday:

Can you tell how badly it needs a makeover? Sure, there are some plants there, but they’re all summer bloomers, so the front yard looks dead not just through winter but through May until June. And now, with the contrast of the (evergreen!) golden euonymus bushes behind the gray lavender ones, the front yard looks even more desperate for filling in.

And of course (“of course” if you’ve learned enough about me through this blog to know that I can’t help making random analogies), I started thinking how this relates to writing.

My first drafts are so sparse. There are hints of things, just like you can see hints of plants that might decide to grow back in come summer. And then I’ll have some sudden inspiration for how to fill in a certain part of the story, and so I’ll flesh that out and add marvelous description and have that scene come to life — only to make the rest of it look worse by comparison until I can finally fill in the whole thing.

I try to plan. I’ve tried sketching out the front yard dozens of times. But still the only thing I’m 100% sure about is those bushes. It’s going to take several more walks stealing ideas from other people’s yards + several more trips to the nursery browsing the aisles + several more hours staring at the front of the house trying to picture how it’ll look to = a fully fleshed out yard.

And the same thing happens when I write a novel. Outlines would be grand, but I can’t seem to manage them until I start actually placing things — like bushes — so that piece by piece it starts to come together.

And often I put in pieces that I don’t end up liking later (like the lavender bushes) or that die off altogether (like countless perennials that I bought too small and they just didn’t survive to the next season) or that I end up moving to a different spot that suits them better (I’ve relocated my burning bushes in the back three times).

My novels are definitely like that. Just because I’ve planted a plant doesn’t mean it’s going to stay and thrive; just because I wrote an idea one way in this draft doesn’t mean it’s going to survive to the next draft.

I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who are good at landscaping and they create a plan and implement it and love the results. There are plenty of writers (I think) who outline and get their story right on the first try. Me, I just happen to be both a revisionist gardener and a revisionist novelist. It comes together piece by piece, with both trial and error.

No big deal, right? So long as I get it right eventually.

And besides, I love the process, and that’s what counts. I love discovering just the right plant as much as I love discovering just the right word, character trait, or scene. The setbacks are worth the rewards when you see it all come together.

What do you think? Am I nuts, or can anybody else relate?

Leave a comment!

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6 responses »

  1. I’ve definitely drawn out plans for my yard that have never happened. Bits and pieces have happened, but I am just not a gardener (allergies—of both sneezing and hives sort—might have something to do with that). But I am determined to get the yard looking at least better than it looks now.

    I’m still trying to figure out how I write. But I know what you mean about parts looking even worse in comparison to the improvements.

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    • I drew up our backyard plans two years before that happened. It does take a while sometimes. Yikes on the hives, though! We just have the mild sneezing variety around here, so we can overlook it for the most part.

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    • I guess I really am a freak, then, because I don’t even mind the weeding. It can be quite satisfying to pull out the things that don’t belong — from the ground or from my writing.

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  2. The thing about gardening with no money is that it is impossible to plan, so I don’t even bother to try! I beg and borrow plants from friends (and sometimes strangers), I go to plant swaps every spring, and come home with pots of miscellanious things whose nature is strange to me–and every year there’s tweeking and editing as I realize that things are in the wrong place. It would be nice to actually buy a few things that I’m unlikely to find elsewhere, but it’s fun doing it this way too.

    I like weeding too! Such a satisfying feeling of progress.

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    • That does sound like fun in some ways. I’ve done just a little bit of that: those three grayish lavender bushes were free because a neighbor of mine was throwing hers out to make room for sod. Sometimes it works out, sometimes not. And sometimes even the stuff I buy new doesn’t work out. Hard to know ahead of time until I’ve had more experience at this!

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