Monday, June 4, 2012

Conundrums in the Garden

One of my gardening books has this quote, “Gardening requires short term foresight and long term vision.”
So in my garden I’m always trying to second guess the viability of new plants, the optimum positioning of said plants (see earlier blogs about transplanting issues) and the long-term success in the garden. Today, I’m rethinking cutting down a low hanging branch that blocks sun to the solarium garden. The plants are pulling toward the sun and growing gangly and weak. I thought that with a bit more sunlight for one to two hours each day, the Ribbon Grass, Siberian Iris, Dusty Millers and Phlox would do better. Before this branch grew heavy with leaves, the plants did well. I’ve already moved the Iris as they seemed to fare the worse in the increasing shade. 
That branch dips just enough that it provides shade to the bench in the garden—one of my favorite spots to sit and journal. The bench is falling apart and won’t make it through the winter to next season. The strip that held the spindles to the bench split off. You can't lean back, only sideways against the short arm propped against the tree. It will end its usefulness as fuel for our fall bonfire. The conundrum: Do I cut the branch and give the garden more sunlight? Do I leave the branch and transplant the Dusty Millers and Phlox? Do I leave the branch and replace the bench with a sturdier one. Do I cut the branch and rearrange another area to accommodate the bench? Do I cut the branch and put up a hammock?
That quote reminds of writing stories, only I never would have phrased it that way. To me, the short-term sense of story and the long term arc of the series have always waged a low-key war in my head. It is one thing to adjust a plot and tweak a weak premise that won't hold the weight of the story, but quite another to ‘cut’ a heavy branch. Once it’s cut, it’s gone. I’m not a fan of the dream sequence solution or the resurrection theory (unless that’s the genre) so I’m stymied at times at how to proceed. If I kill a character, I must have a clear sense of how that loss affects the current book but how the lack of that character going forward affects the arc of the series. If I cut a main character do I have a plan to introduce another one to fill in that void thereby creating a new direction and growth pattern in the series or was that character’s death just perfect for that book and I don’t have a long-term vision of the ramifications.

Gardeners know that you can’t dig up one section of a garden or cut down a tree without impacting and perhaps ruining your original plan. Perhaps in the dappled shade, plants never grew to their full height. With more sunlight, they might reach that height and throw off the look of the garden or overrun a more delicate plant that had co-existed before the growth spurt.
When you’re working in a series, that original arc most likely changes as you just have to use a great short-term plot point. You can amend the story or soil (I put coffee grounds around the base of my Niko Blue Hydrangea hoping it blooms blue and doesn’t turn pink. The hydrangea is still there but in a different shade. If you amend a character’s behavior, i.e. amnesia, hypnosis, AHA moment in life, death bed promise to loved one, etc. the character remains but in a different shade of his/her personality. You get the altered behavior you want, if only short term.
I don’t have an answer yet—this branch-bench conundrum is a work in progress. Isn’t it always?


  1. Great blog post, Luisa! I enjoyed the comparisons between gardening and writing. And, thanks for the tip about the coffee grounds! Maybe I can finally get my hydrangea to bloom with blue flowers. :)

  2. As of this morning, the hydrangea blooms were changing from white to blue. I will keep up the coffee treatment to insure blue blooms thoughout the summer. Plus, it gives me a good reason to brew that second pot! I'll post a picture with the next blog.