On tumble-down gardens

My mother once gave me a shopworn gift for Christmas and said, “I’m giving this to you because you don’t mind broken things.”

I’ve often thought about this statement. Over the years, it has come to mean different things: that I can see the value in everyone and everything, even if imperfect. That I have a tendency to take in strays, for better or worse. That my mother was kind of a jerk in foisting off a piece of crap on me and telling me I’d like it.

But I admit I have always been more interested in broken things than in the perfect ones, or the seemingly perfect ones. When you grow up in a well-to-do suburb but your family isn’t well-to-do, you look for cracks in the facade as a defense mechanism. What you say to yourself is that you wouldn’t want what they have anyway. Or at least I did: It seemed better than spending my formative years suffering unremitting jealousy.

The interesting people at school were never the popular ones with perfectly curled Farrah hair and Gloria Vanderbilt jeans. By choosing to conform to this social standard, they erased anything remotely interesting about themselves. But the girl who made her own skirt was automatically more engaging to be with because she had a skill that didn’t just require money to attain.

I haven’t changed much in this regard. I’m always more drawn to the garden with a few weeds. The perfectly manicured one is seen to by an army of gardeners who wield weed whackers and chain saws, who planned it with thoughts of what’s easiest to maintain and not what’s pretty and smells really good.
You’ll never find a witch or an herbalist in a garden like that.