Tending Other People’s Gardens

On Mondays, I change the CDs in my car for the week’s commute. Yesterday there was a huge pile-up on the highway and I got stuck in my car for almost two and half hours. I got to listen to a lot of music.

Week 1 Set List

  1. In Raindows Radiohead
  2. Manos The Spinanes
  3. American Recordings Johnny Cash
  4. 89/93 Uncle Tupelo: An Anthology
  5. Drunken Angel—Lucinda Williams
  6. Kingston Advice: Live in Jamaica–The Clash (I haven’t taken this one out in 4 months.)

Usually I listen to part of a song or I fast forward. Sometimes I listen to the whole CD. Sometimes I don’t even realize that I’ve listened to an entire CD and a new one has started. And more often than not, I listen to the same song several times. Here are my three favorites from this week’s set list. Lines that give me chills are italicized. They are so good.

“Entire”—The Spinanes You call it in colors/And she bows to you/An archer, come sparrow/It’s a place I can’t get to 

“No Depression”—Uncle Tupelo In this dark hour, midnight nearing/The tribulation time will come/Storms will hurl in midnight fear/Sweep lost millions to their doom

“Drive On”—Johnny Cash But my letter read from Whiskey Sam/You’re a walkin’ talkin’ miracle from Vietnam

All of these songs tell a story. Reminds me of people and places. Gives me something to think about. Takes me out of my head. Away from my own story. I know all of the words. I hum the songs later when I’m cleaning the kitchen. Getting dressed. Petting the dog. Whenever I notice I’m humming. Most of all I think of the lyrics. The words. The lyrics. The words. Always the words.

This past week was the start of the quarter, and now that it’s in the rearview window I can think about a few other things. The start of the quarter, if you support teachers and students, is incredibly exhausting. I have to find the energy to keep the spirit alive for the the other things I love–even though I want to go to sleep at 7pm because the day was so hard.

Instead I lost sleep during the week nights. I watched a movie, read a book, had a happy hour that turned into a cab ride home at 1AM, wrote lists, planned projects, talked to interesting people, and dreamt of other paths than the one I’m on right now. The jobby job I’d like to do, but I shouldn’t write about that. Let me tell you a story instead.

It’s spring in the NW, and my yard is beginning to sprout and bloom. But here’s the thing, it’s not my yard. I’m a renter, and we get a deal because of my gardening skills. Landscaper is on my resume, and I know a thing or two about plants. Our landlords’ previous tenant ripped out a whole row of hostas because she thought they were weeds (yikes!). When we looked at the house, I was quizzed by the landlord about what plants were and I passed the test. And you see, they have landscaped this house in a way I would not. Ever. It’s lovely, don’t get me wrong. It pulses with different shades of green when it’s in full glory, and I love it.

But I’m tired of tending other people’s gardens. I’m ready to plant my own garden and get so nutty with experimenting with landscaping design. I want to build a little forest with a bunch of different beds. I want to mix vegetables and flowers and let ferns get huge. The clematis would grow all over the railings. The daisies would grow over my head. Sunflowers would grow up to the roof and then slowly fall to the ground heavy with seeds. Then the birds would have a party eating the seeds. Then I’d clean it up. I’d have a whole front yard of tulips right now. I’d have one little patch of the grass for the dog, and the rest would be xeriscaped with plants and rocks. I’d grab a shovel and help the husband build his BMX pump track and then I’d landscape hardy plants around it. I’d sell the damn mower. I’d ditch the awful planters and buy handcrafted pots from art students.

In short, I’d let it get kind of wild and just see where it goes. Every spring and summer it would get better. I’d make sure everything was healthy, but I’d landscape it in a way where plants would benefit from being close to their friends—just like in a forest. I wouldn’t have to weed as much because I’d have every bit of land covered by plants or rocks. Right now there is a lot of weeding because the landscaping is that of a golf-course resort. It’s manicured. It’s tame. It’s predictable. It’s decidedly not me. Or the me I hope to be.

But I tend somebody’s else garden because that’s my job. That’s what I promised. That’s why I pay less rent. I thought this plan was only going to be a year and now it’s turned into six. And here I am back again at the point where the weeds of winter must be tended. Torn up. Manicured. Tamed. Again. Shaped into a design that I can’t change or control.

During the time that I’ve rented this place, I’ve learned a valuable lesson. When people say something like “Just do whatever you like. Treat this place like your own. Just call me when you’re making plans. I trust you.” That really means, I want complete control of this place. I want the final say. Don’t do anything without my consent. That’s called passive aggressive. Leadership and the philosophy of the micro-manager. I trust you, but never forget I control you. I trust you up to a point. Make sure you run it by me first.

And I learned this by mistake when I treated this garden like my own. I love the way daisies and tomato plants and mint look next to one another. You’ve got the shiny low leaves of mint. The furry tomato branches and the endless white above it all with the daisies. Yellow flowers that turn into red things you can eat! I think it’s gorgeous. I was pretty proud of the one bed. The landlord, however, was not as thrilled. She hated it.

She said, “Your taste is a bit more hippy than mine.” She had a look like she smelled something bad, and said, “I just think vegetables and flowers should be separated. Not like this. Definitely not like this.” and she waved her arm over my bed in disgust.

My sarcastic brain said, “Tomatoes are fruit, technically. If you’re going to critique my shit at least get your facts straight.” But I didn’t say that. I bit my sarcastic forked-tongue.

I panicked that she wanted me to tear it up. My little design was going to be manicured into the predictable. The boring. The same as everyone else in my neighborhood. The boringly beautiful. But that’s okay. I’ll own it–My tastes are a bit hippy when I think of my masterpiece.

Sounds so serious, right? I’m sketching out plans for future gardens. I’m not going grow old here. I’m looking for other gardens, so to speak. I’m going to build landscaping plans that I’d like to see and then I’m going to share them with like-minded hippies. I’m going to give them away. I’m not letting go of the dream of my little backyard forest. For now, I’ll weed. I’ll manicure, but I’m thinking of better gardens yet to be built. I’m writing it all down.

Lately I’ve been calling the book I want to write my “work of drafted of articles.” Uh-o. That’s a sign I’m giving up again. Alert! When I start call it a series of articles, that’s a sign I’m starting to lose sight of it. Dammit. Here I go again.

This time, however, I’m okay with that because I’ve another idea brewing that connects the hobby job and the jobby job. I’ve got plans to sketch out my little vision for OER. I’m going to give it away and let somebody else build the garden that I can’t make happen in my backyward. That’s right. I’ll give it away. I’m not going to try to publish it, and I think it could very well suck, but maybe somebody will dig it. Revise. Remix. Take it, I’ll say. You don’t have to call me. Just build it and send me a picture. Invite me over for a beer. I’ll get drunk next to your daisies and tomatoes. I’ll put some mint in my pocket. Well done, you.

I’ve been talking about how OER helps teachers improve their teaching practices, and I’m seeing it work. I’m seeing the goods of the work bloom. I need to write about it, so I’m going to do it. I just need it to be simple. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

This week I finished reading Mistakes I Made At Work: 25 Influential Women Reflect on What They Got Out of  Getting It Wrong. Cheryl Strayed, the author of Wild is one of the people featured in this book. In the introduction to her chapter, the editor excerpts a book review by Dwight Garner. “This book,” he wrote, “is a as loose and sexy and dark as an early Lucinda Williams song. It’s got a punk spirit and makes an earthy and American sound.”

Oh. My. If only somebody said that about my work. My garden. That’s a review you can see, smell, and hear. You can feel it. Wow. I love it. And here’s the thing: I’ve been a vocal critic of Strayed’s work yet her chapter and the one by Kim Gordon were two of my favorites in this book. Listen to these Strayed quotes:

Doubt is a part of the writer’s life.

We’re all rough drafts. If you’re living right you’re constantly striving to make the next next version of yourself one notch better. Real success is rooted in learning how to turn mistakes into successes; loses into gains; failures in the things of value that propel you forward rather than hold you back.

Thanks, Cheryl. You deserve your success. Now that I know you were a waitress who hated the world because you wanted to be a writer, I like you even more. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go listen to Lucinda and do some weeding.






About Alyson Indrunas

Always learning about instructional design, educational technology, professional development, adult education, and writing.
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6 Responses to Tending Other People’s Gardens

  1. francesbell says:

    We are from different generations Alyson and I ‘owned’ my first garden aged 22. We were very lucky – we bought a newish house and the builders had not bothered to remove the beautiful black West Lancashire loam in which local farms grew delicious vegetables. We thought it was easy to grow veg.
    My adult offspring have different experiences – one of three ‘own’ their garden and two of three are interested in gardening. So I can identify with ‘owned’ gardening and one thing I love about gardens I have developed and left is that I have left behind some plans and plantings for others to enjoy, just like I ( 7 houses later) enjoy the beautiful beech tree that an unknown person planted in what is now my ‘owned’ garden (probably over a hundred years ago when it was a field). Here is a glimpse of the gorgeousness of it https://www.flickr.com/photos/francesbell/11401486634.
    Another thing I love is sharing of plant material with friends so Sysyrinchium http://www.bbc.co.uk/gardening/plants/plant_finder/plant_pages/13049.shtml and Acanthus Bear’s britches http://www.bbc.co.uk/gardening/plants/plant_finder/plant_pages/6.shtml have hopped from my garden to those of friends and family then hopped back to my later gardens.
    But of course, gardening is not just about suburban ownership and a really lovely concept is guerrilla gardening where people illicitly appropriate public space to garden http://www.guerrillagardening.org/ and seed bombs http://www.guerrillagardening.org/ggseedbombs.html . Do you have community gardens where you live Alyson? I have friends and neighbours who have allotments but I gather the acreage is falling in the UK.


    • That tree is gorgeous, Frances. Makes me want to climb up it and take a nap. I come from a long line of renters, so I’m not sure if I had played cards right in my 20s if things would be different for me now. Hard to say, but I wouldn’t trade my wanderings for anything. One way to look at it is that I’ve got to know a lot of gardens!

      First of all, I love the BBC site you linked. I adore that they have listed the Sisyrinchium and a reminder of it looks good with: Carex buchananii ‘Red Rooster’ That’s one of the fun things about plants–they have great names. Bear Breeches! Chick weed is the bane of my existence right now. (That makes me laugh, and it’s really silly, I know).

      We do have community gardens, and they are amazing. I gave up when I lived in Seattle because the waitlist was years long. When I moved to this house, I didn’t want to drive or ride my bike to garden. Plus, the size of this rental garden keeps me busy. I’ll have to post some photos because I heard from many green thumbs with this post. There is also a bit of guerilla gardening where I live as well. I’ve noticed people are landscaping round-abouts, and they are quite beautiful. There’s also a patch near the university in town where some students have claimed an empty site that’s been for sale for five years. I’m quite charmed these kids!

      I also help my friend in her garden quite a bit, and she’s put some hired help into the yard, and it’s such a joy to work in! They did all the hard nasty work, and now we can do the fun stuff. I’m really quite lucky to live in my rental house, and the birds have such a party when I weed. In fact, I feel like the Hitchcock film sometimes when I’m out there. They swoop in and wait on branches. Crows, blue jays, and the occasional robin. It was a good weekend in that garden:)


  2. OER gardening soundtracks? My nomination, from my daily trek to The Wenatchee World circa 2006-07:


  3. P.S. CDs? – snicker –


    • Thanks, Snark Machine. You know how I’m into cutting edge technology, right? Stop by my office and I’ll give you quick PowerPoint tutorial. I jest, yet wait…that might actually happen this week…

      I’m also mourning the loss of our tape deck in the the van. I miss the hiss of a record. That’s how I roll. Now I feel like I need to justify my CD listening–I haven’t put the time into figuring out my new phone and I’m taking a trip back memory lane with our CD collection, yo. Plus I have car that holds 6 CDs at once. Wait. What? That’s not new, you say? Let Aunt Alyson tell you a story about career choices…


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