Do you ever wonder? It's a curious word and thing, wonder. Because it can be a word or feeling of great inspiration, or it can be a word of doubt and even anxiety. Gardening and plants has always had a lot of wonder in it for me but what kind?
For so many people, the conversation about a plant starts oftentimes with the doubtful version of wonder. "I wonder if this plant will live?" or "I wonder if this plant will do well here?" Both are reasonable questions, but are we talking about the plant failing or even dying before we considered the other type of wonder? What would happen if we embraced wondering about the foliage, the flowers, and beauty that a plant can bring to our garden.
I wonder about those practical components of a plant as well, but I don't allow them to stop me from growing a plant. I embrace the uncertainty of not knowing. "Will this plant live?" is replaced with "I wonder what this plant will become?" It can feel like a simple change, but many powerful changes in life can feel small at first.
When I started growing plants, I didn't know what plants would do well, and I didn't even truly know what plants I liked. I treasured that not knowing, and still do. I turned it from not knowing to wondering. Wondering what else I could grow, wondering what would look good here or there, and most of all, wondering what comes next in the garden.
Today, I still love not knowing if a plant will do well here or trying a plant few others in the world have grown. I choose not to focus on the doubt but on the possibilities of what might be. Gardening, in many ways, is always a release of control and knowing. The most important of all factors in gardening that we have no control over at all is weather. Relinquishing that need for control and knowing is extremely freeing. When you do, you will notice a sense of creative freedom that might not have been there before.
So do we throw all caution to the wind? I'm not sure the answer is yes or no. The answer is, it's up to you. If you've ever wondered can you grow an Australian Tree Fern Dicksonia antarctica outside in Middle Tennessee, I have and I've tried. Those tree ferns have not lived, but I've tried. I approach each plant with as much knowledge as I possibly can but still trying to find things about them to wonder about.
After growing tens of thousands of dahlias for three years, I still wonder why there weren't better records kept on their breeding history. I wonder if the varieties that struggle in my southern summers have genetic parents that come from higher elevation in Central America and demand cooler nighttime temperatures. I wonder how to incorporate the smaller growing varieties in the front of the garden. I wonder why people feel dahlias are divas but grow fast and strong with some basic understanding of them. I wonder a lot of things.
At some point, it would be both hubris and boring to think we know everything about a plant. To look at a plant as if it should come with perfect directions. That if we follow those, we are guaranteed some kind of success. To reduce this wondrous living thing of nature to recipe like instructions. The beauty in plants and nature is in the complexity, and if we look to replace that complexity with easy answers, we take away what makes it so fulfilling. I feel that's what separates gardening from a thing we do for two weekends in the spring to something that becomes a lifelong passion that invigorates our life.
There will always be doubt and the unknown in life, but in our garden, we can leave those words and their feelings behind. We can wonder if the flowers will bloom early or late. We can wonder if that plant will get even bigger this year. We can wonder if the breeze will rustle through the grass again this fall. Of all the forms that wonder can take, I'll choose that version over doubt.