Lynne Soraya

Asperger's Diary

Gardening, Asperger Style: Learning When Not To Follow The Rules

Learning When Not To Follow The Rules

Posted May 06, 2009

Well, it's spring again and the gardening bug has definitely bitten me.  While the weather is still too unpredictable where I live to plant, that didn't stop me from stopping by a local nursery to dream.   While making my great plans for the season ahead - I found myself reflecting on the origins of my interest in gardening, and my disastrous early attempts.  I much of it was typical, and how much of it was Asperger's?" />

As a naturally solitary kid, a large amount of my early childhood memories center not on other people, but on things and nature. Many of my happiest memories are sensory, and revolve around plants.   I remember spending hours digging in the flower beds of my childhood home, picking leaves off the lemon verbena plant in the front yard, bruising them  to hold them up to my nose and inhale the wonderful lemon scent.  Sunday afternoons under a clear blue sky, out in the vegetable garden with my father, picking snow peas for dinner, with the sound of the ice cream truck passing in the distance. 
Later, when I was in day care, I remember walking the path along the side of the home in which I stayed, the nutty smell of jasmine wafting by.  I would examine the delicate star shaped white flowers, following the line that they made, creeping up the brick walls, like stars in the sky. Often, after school, I'd sit with a bunch of other kids, picking honeysuckle from the hillside, and we'd talk about the latest hit songs on the radio, watching while the other kids play ball, sucking the nectar from the flowers.  On summer afternoons, we'd ride bikes around, stopping to rest in the shade of a large blackberry patch, enjoying the fresh-picked berries (and getting attacked by bees). 

But as I think about it, I also make some connections.  I begin to remember my early attempts at gardening on my own.   As a teen, when I plowed a whole section of my mother's yard to plant herbs, they cooked in the sun.  The first beds that I planted in my own home were rudimentary, pitiful, and drove me to tears.  Remembering this, I began to trace where this came from.  Where did I learn how to plant a flower bed? 

From my father.  My father, who, as I have said, I strongly suspect to have Asperger's.  As some autistic kids line up their toys, so my father did with plants.   Perfect, regimented, boring rows.   A row of Dusty Millers.  A row of Marigolds.  Then a row of Ageratum or Alyssum

I'd sit at his side, handing him each plant, reading to him the instructions.  If it said, "Plant in full sun, 12" apart."  That's exactly what we'd do.   Each year the same. When I got my own home, I followed this same pattern. I didn't think to question it.  I thought that I was being see, unlike my father, I actually mixed the colors in each row, making geometric patterns in the plants...strategically mixing the colors, and types of flowers.  

One sunny afternoon, I spent the afternoon planting my new mailbox planter with lines of dianthus and snapdragons.  Meticulously, I laid out the pattern of plants - yellow here, red there....I pictured the pattern they would make as they grew, like the patterns often laid out by professional landscapers at the openings of botanical gardens and the like.  I showed my work to my husband...who was briefly silent.  Then, tentatively, turning his head to the side, he said, "Umm....I'm not sure that's how it's supposed to look...."

"What do you mean?"  I asked, annoyed that my work had been so poorly received, "This is how I've always planted..."  "Well," he said, "I'm not an expert in this, I don't know much about plants, but I know that other peoples' boxes don't look like that...." I had a sense of what he was saying, but inside I was crushed.  I had been so proud of my creation.

Eventually, I reluctantly gave in to to his gently worded suggestion that we get a second opinion. Later, sitting in the kitchen, I, vaguely hostile, listened to the landscaper's plans.  Different kinds of plants, all jumbled together, no space in between...different colors, different types of flowers, some with no flowers at all.  Every instinct rebelled. Chaos!

I was skeptical, but I tried to maintain an open mind.  A few days later, when I came to view the final product, I was reminded me of wildflowers in a field....what sounded like chaos, in fact made for a beautiful, and -  more important - interesting, tableau.  Tall plants, short plants, trailing plants...all came together like a plant sculpture.  It was what I had always seen in pictures, but never had been able to reproduce.

A season or two later, I decided to try it myself.  I took the formula she had built, threw in some ideas gleaned from instructions in Better Homes and Gardens, and samples in the local nursery.  Now I had something I liked even better.  I was hooked.

Now, each spring I can't wait to get out to my local nursery and put together my latest masterpiece. And each season, I add something new.  Now, no one says, "Umm...I'm not sure that's how it supposed to look."  They compliment me on my yard....and they ask me what I did.

In the end, I learned something valuable.  Some of the most beautiful things come when you shut up, listen, swallow your pride and learn when NOT to follow the rules. 

(Now I just need to learn how to keep a houseplant alive.)

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