"God gave us memory," wrote J.M. Barrie, "that we might have roses in December."
A splendid sentiment, and one with which we may all agree in our dotage, if only we can remember it; but meanwhile the failing memories of gardeners can seem far more devilish than divine. I fear that as a group we are suffering from what the experts call Horticultural Memory Dysfunction (HMD).
Across the gardens of the nation you see alarming manifestations of memory impairment. Take the matter of vanishing implements, for example. How is it that a person can enter their garden, trowel firmly in hand, only to emerge twenty minutes later with absolutely no idea of where the trowel has gotten to? A full-scale search proves futile, as does questioning the absent-minded miscreant.
Where were you using it last?
I don’t quite remember; somewhere in the garden.
Can you remember what you were doing?
Trowelling, I suppose.
The case is hopeless; the trowel’s gone for good. Secateurs, spades, even wheelbarrows -- there seems to be no limit to a gardener’s capacity to forget where they’ve left something.
An excessive number of sheds and storage areas can often compound the problem. I spent significant portions of three afternoons this past summer wandering from woodshed to toolshed to potting shed to the old goat barn, trying to discover where I’d stored the soaker hoses last fall. I knew I’d seen them somewhere, I could visualize them clearly, but I’d be damned if I could recall just where.
Whenever I can’t lay my hand on a missing tool, I choose not to blame my own forgetfulness, but rather lay blame on someone else for borrowing and failing to return it. But then the devilish question arises: Who was it that borrowed the post hole digger, anyway? Of course, you can’t remember.
It would be extremely useful, whenever a recently acquired plant dies unexpectedly, to retain in memory where you purchased it, so that you could return it with a mournful countenance and an expectation of a free replacement. But can you remember?
Do you recall where you might have put the sales slip?
Not just at the moment.
Many’s the gardener whose HMD has advanced to the point where they don’t even recall having introduced certain plants into their garden. "Hello, what’s this?" they’ll exclaim one day, perhaps encountering a Daphne odora whose presence in the garden is entirely unaccountable -- as though certain plants were given to sneaking into gardens under cover of darkness, like feral cats.
Over in the vegetable patch, you’ll catch certain gardeners, chin in hand, trying to minimize the ravages of late blight by not planting potatoes or tomatoes where they grew last year. But can they remember where they grew last year? Dream on.
Same thing with trying to remember the name of an especially productive variety you grew last year. You know you should have written the name down somewhere. Maybe you did write it down. Somewher
Plant names, of course, are the ultimate undoing of HMD sufferers.
"Waht’s that plant over there?" a visitor asked me not long ago.
"Oh, that," I glanced down nonchalantly, but panic-stricken in my mind, "is a potentilla.."
Isn’t it a goom?" my visitor asked.
"A goom?" I echoed, inwardly flailing like a drowning swimmer, not remembering anything called a goom. "Oh, it’s either Miss Wilmott or Mrs. Bradshaw, I forget which," I said with a blithe nonchalance intended to convey that I was far too outre to concern myself with such trifling matters.
"I knew it!" exulted my tormentor, "It’s a goom!"
These conversations are best terminated as quickly as good manners allow, because two or more gardeners wracking their brains for elusive names can be a disheartening sight. "Oh, it’s on the tip of my tongue!" one will excclaim. "I know the name as well as my own!" These remarks are accompanied with much finger snapping, head shaking and other peculiar gestures aimed at bringing the elusive name to mind.
Chronic sufferers take to sticking identification tags all over their gardens, creating an overall effect less of charm than desperation. Fancy name plates done in ceramics or bronze may strike a tonier tone than plastic tags, but the sorry message is the same: Lest We Forget.
Of course there are a few people who flounce about with razor-sharp minds able to bring up obscure plant names with prodigious speed and accuracy. Generally speaking, these are not the sort of people one wants to cultivate, even if you could remember their names. Nor should one succumb to feelings of inadequacy in their presence. Rather, I take comfort in that old line from Elbert Hubbard: "A retentive memory is a good thing, but the ability to forget is the true token of greatness."