Leaving My Critic at the Garden Gate

Recently I’ve had an epiphany, and it’s about me and how I have felt about presenting my garden to the world. I know my critic has been voicing her little nags about this for a long time, and I’d like to say I largely ignored her, but that would not be true. The job of the critic is to protect us from being hurt, based on our notes taken as a little child, all learned from Mommy and Daddy as they laid down The Rules. The ones we were to obey if we wanted to be loved and accepted. It’s a big shift to become the adult in the room and to be able to thank the critic voice for her input (it’s her Job, afterall), but you are the conscious adult and you are in charge now, and able to reassess whether her notes are still pertinent, or were ever even true. So there was that. And I suppose I’d been thinking that as “a gardening blogger” my garden was “supposed to look a certain way.” Not Better Homes and Gardens, but, you know. Nice. So I would carefully select how I presented my garden in pictures, trying to avoid certain corners. Or, the whole big picture, if I’m being really honest, and that’s what this post is about.

I’d already begun to think about this, catalyzed by noticing I was surprised when an elderly neighbor came to visit my back garden, and given that she’s a kind of random gardener herself, I showed her every corner, thinking she would appreciate it. She did. After I walked her around she said, “I feel like I’ve been on a gardening tour.” Really? And then I was left wondering why I would be so surprised. What’s that about?


But the real ah-ha moment occurred when a gardener I know was lamenting that at end of winter her garden didn’t really show well, and for some reason, that one clicked. Because what I recognized was that the voice of the critic was lying await under what she was saying. This led me to some serious and honest thinking, which led me to this conversation with my daughter this morning.

“I’m going to write about leaving one’s critic at the garden gate, my own included. And I’m going to stop thinking my garden has to be showcased as anything other than it really is. And what it really is, Antonia, is a very big DOG RUN with a LOT of things growing on each side, mostly roses.”

And we both cracked up laughing.

Because it’s basically true. I took one look at that near block-long yard ten and a half years ago, and I saw a place my overly energetic Border Collie, Conner, could happily be exercised and safely kept behind tall garden walls. I also saw a random garden created by various renters that allowed me to know I could pretty much do whatever I wanted, and that appealed to me very much. I could experiment, and pretty much anything I did create would have been an improvement. And it has been. Let me take you beyond the garden gate and give you a really good look at what lies behind it!

First, the primary motivators, playing ball. (They are the main attraction!)

Conner and Ruby

And here’s where they get to play every day.




That’s basically the dog run part. But there’s also a bit of patio, where we sometimes play, and this is a peek at some of that.


It’s a big back yard, and it has secret places. I somehow managed to arrange it as if it were divided into vignettes. Here’s the hammock.


And my most recent foray is something I’ve long thought about, as the true myrtle (one of my favorite areas) grows in rather a circle, so I’ve always imagined that I could put something inside that circle and create something special. And that one I’ve just begun, so stay tuned. I’m seeing videotaping little chats from an early morning garden, with tablecloths and vases of flowers and hanging lovely things in the trees. Can you see it?

The Myrtle Circle

Then there was the haphazard developing of the Rose Garden, which evolved out of taking out an enormous plum tree that did no one any good, ever, not even the birds, and a teen age neighbor boy who actually told me, “I’m the brawn, not the brain” plopped in a circle of roses I’d salvaged from some elderly folks on the block who had intended to trash these amazing heirloom roses! So that happened. And was I inclined to take out the volunteer borage? No. Not at all. I’m not that kind of girl. So I enjoy the contrasting blues and reds and pinks and yellows and the abundance of honeybees and bumbles that frequent my garden from early morning ’till dusk and beyond.


Also, compliments of same brawny teenager, the lemon tree got dragged into the center of the “dog run”, in the sun, and adjacent to a grape vine I put into a large pot who is getting bigger every year. Oh, dear. And I spend a fair amount of time making sure it doesn’t wind itself into the lemon tree or get in the way of focused doggies, which does happen on occasion. Poor grapes.


There’s a large picnic table on this end of the garden, well used.


And a honeysuckle screen looking out into that area.


And, of course, the Dr. Hueys.


Among the other blessings on this property are a fig tree, an organic apple tree, a plum tree (which had been hiding behind the one pulled up!), and the English walnut.


And what I’ve added includes three butterfly bushes, insuring tons of butterflies and pollinators, lots of herbs, raspberries, blackberries, roses and more roses, irises, lilies, campanula, and all manner of flowers. I am especially grateful for the perennials.

But what this garden most offers is a habitat for birds and critters. A safe one, free of pesticides, one where nests might be built. It offers respite from my work life. Fresh air. Quiet. Safety. No deer. No snakes. (Only black widows, which I watch carefully for.) All gifts for which I am incredibly grateful. And is it “perfect”? No. It is garden tour worthy? Probably not. Do I care? No. So I hope this sharing encourages you to have the garden that suits you. Please, please, leave your critic at the garden gate. Let things go a bit, and learn about the plants you are growing. How else would I know oregano can take over a veggie garden, had I not let it happen? Or that mullein is a magical plant if I’d ripped it up before it became a stalwart force in my garden? Where would I play with hummingbirds in the early morning, showering them with a spray from my hose? Learn about scrub jay fledglings? Let your garden be. Shape it as you will. But make it a place of joy and wonder and learning. Because that’s what it is.

Love and garden blessings,
Kathryn xoxo

Book News: Guess what? May 21st I’m coming down to Healdsburg for an Author Meet and Greet. Can you come?? I’d love to see you! Also–if you have read my book Plant Whatever Brings You Joy, would you consider putting a review on my Amazon page? It all helps and is deeply appreciated. Ten thousand kisses if you do!


13 Responses to “Leaving My Critic at the Garden Gate”

  1. What an encouraging post. I’ve gardened all my life, but moved from our big farmhouse three years ago to an acre (small for me) in central Florida. I keep looking at my back garden with a critical eye…I’ve even thought of having a landscaping architect take a look…but that would be money I can’t spend on plants!!! Sometimes, the most important advice I can give myself is to wait….wait until a growing season has past. See how things fill in. I may change my mind (I will change my mind) Thank you for your candor….what a relief…sigh…

  2. Hi, Cynthia, and welcome! Thank you for this comment! I had a feeling this post might speak to some good hearted folks, and I’m glad it resonated with your current situation! Enjoy! Kathryn xoxo

  3. Wonderful post, mom. Such poignant food for thought about what one is creating, and allowing it to look differently from how one might feel it “should” be. Brava! Your garden is a wonderful, nurturing and nourishing place, too. 🙂

    Love, Antonia

  4. Shape it as you will. But make it a place of joy and wonder and learning. Because that’s what it is.

    So a lot like an abstract painting!

  5. “Let your garden be. Shape it as you will. But make it a place of joy and wonder and learning. Because that’s what it is.”

    Your process reminded me a lot of my process when creating an abstract painting.

  6. Fantastic to see REALITY. Because it is beautiful! Great post, Kathryn. Your garden is lovely and a haven to all, feeding bodies and souls. I did a post some years back on another blog of mine (now gone) and titled it “Weedwoman’s Garden” because it was late summer and I usually throw in the towel then. Weeds were EVERYWHERE and I photographed all the chaos and shared. It was rather shocking, but also funny (at least to me) and TRUTHFUL. I got a lot of appreciation for that one. I may repost this year! 🙂

  7. Hi, Antonia, Thanks, dear. I’m glad you one of the ones who has benefitted from it. I recall those early morning meditations you have done out there and I’m always been grateful it was there for you in that way. It’s a very endearing memory. Love, Mom xoxo

  8. Hi, Dick, I totally get it! This applies to any creative process, for sure! I was just mentioning that this morning. Glad you found yourself in this post, even though it’s paint, not plants you are playing with and enjoying! Kathryn xoxo

  9. Hi, Sandra, I can imagine you hit the same nerve I’m feeling this post will, as we look at all the beautiful photos of others’ gardens (particularly those of us with lots of landscape architects as friends!) and it’s not hard to begin to wonder “what they think”. Ha. Let it go. If I had to take my critic into my garden it would toss out one of the most important aspects of what my garden is for me. It would ruin it, completely. Do i care about beauty and harmony and balance? Of course. And I have that to a large degree. Do I tend it regularly? Every day something happens out there to “make it better”. But it remains also a place for discovery and peace, and that is equally, if not more, important. Kathryn xoxo

  10. What a liberating epiphany! The photos of such diverse spaces with your verypersonal narrative made for an engaging tour, gave us a bird’s view of your fascinating “Park and Playyard.” It is huge!
    How lucky you are to have the freedom to create and play on that land. Do you remember
    William Blake’s line? “Man is most nearly himself when he’s at play.” I think it is from the
    “Marriage of Heaven and Hell.”
    Play on , dear Kathryn, play on….Keep sending your insights to us out here wondering if
    Our creative work is good enough “to show”, pushing through Ego, letting go of that inner
    And playing what we feel is our truth, our unique song,
    Happy Garden Songs , Barbara

  11. Your blog title says it all! Plant whatever brings YOU joy. My front yard is a testament to what I like, with Shasta daisy keeping my red roses company and tall spires of glads mocking the diminutive pansy below. Color, texture and smells abound. It brings me joy. I am inspired by your posts, every one.

  12. Barbara, welcome! Love your comments! “Man is most nearly himself when he’s at play.”
    Yes! And creating! Love what you wrote. Love, Kathryn xxo

  13. Hi, Regina and welcome and thank you so very much for your kind words! Your front garden sounds perfectly lovely! I appreciate your taking time to share a little picture of what you love. It sounds very inspiring! Kathryn xoxo

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