General Garden Musings

Meeting Betty Ann

I’m a lucky man. I love gardening and because I write about it to help pay the bills, I get to meet a lot of gardeners. I feel a kinship with most of them–and then some knock me slightly off my epicenter.

Dot gold throughout the garden like shafts of sunlight. Strive for echoes of gold in varying textures.

This fall I have gotten to know Betty Ann Addison, a garden designer who has spent many of her days rock gardening, to the point that she is the go-to on the subject in these parts. Rock gardening is how many a Northern gardener know her. Her nursery, The Gardens of Rice Creek, open Saturdays beginning in May of every year, is not-to-be-missed. Yes, she is an alpine gardening maven, but it’s her overall garden design sensibility that shook me, as well as her highly engaged approach to living.

I won’t tell you how old Betty Ann is, but I will say, she is about 25 years younger than I thought she was from looking at her. Could loving what you do and continuing the exploration of it as long as you can be the real fountain of youth?

scotch moss

Scotch moss lights up the shade garden.

Betty told me: “You don’t want a hobby that you can conquer right away. You want to stay engaged.” This struck me. So often, we don’t want to be beginners. The learning curve of something new scares us off. We try something, it doesn’t live up to our ideals and we lose interest–we become discouraged. And this is usually the point at which we are about to hit that sweet spot, that golden moment when we step back and think “Not bad.” Failures are what stretch us further, Betty says.

I mentioned to Betty Ann that I get frustrated because I have a lot of interests and I feel like I should settle on one–focus and get expert at something once and for all. She counseled me that “I was so young,” to which I responded “I’m 47.” She stayed in step and told me “life begins at 50.” And she said things would become clearer to me. I am hanging onto this.

blue gentian

“The plants don’t read the books.” A gentian blooms at an unexpected time.

These are a couple of life lessons picked up from Betty Ann. The gardening lessons are limitless and many will be in my article on rock gardening in the January 2013 issue of Northern Gardener. I have to tell you, the one that really struck me as magical and highly doable is to dot gold throughout the garden like shafts of sunlight. Strive for echoes of gold in varying textures.

The tenets of rock gardening tell the basics of all-around good garden design, with the basis being the creating of a stage for the plants to play front and center. Generally, alpine or rock gardening plants are under 6-inches–they need to have their stage set to bring them into focus. When the eye is drawn to them, they gain in importance.

Betty sees the small things and because of this, is in tune with what is big in life.

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