A few days ago I was reading a story about Colchicums in the English gardening magazine Gardens Illustrated (my favorite magazine, with superb writing, though the gardens hardly translate to the much warmer and more humid mid Atlantic region of America). The author related that he, like many men, has a tendency to collect. I was struck by this comment. Certainly, in my garden I’m an inveterate collector, but is this an attribute (or curse) of men in general, I wondered? It had not occurred to me that I could be following a genetic impulse rather than a personal inclination, so further investigation was required.
I Googled for the answer. There must be studies to confirm this. Or, perhaps this is a long observed fact, and only I have missed out and it is widely taken for granted. But, I found nothing, not even a mention. Now, it occurs to me that collecting could be confined only to male gardeners, though this again seems a bit too broad. Is it plausible, and how could I have missed it?
You, dear reader, are likely to be reading and shaking your head at my cluelessness. But, I see no reason to apologize, and in fact it seems somehow noble to desire to plant every magnolia or every recognized Japanese maple. Why, you ask? Simply, if the gardener falls madly in love with the early spring flowering ‘Royal Star’ magnolia, is there not a likelihood that he will be similarly smitten by ‘Dr. Merrill’ or the pale yellow ‘Elizabeth’? Of course, yes.
I’ve read that there are at least twenty-five thousand distinct varieties of Japanese maples in cultivation, and though it seems ridiculous to aspire to planting them all (unless one has a garden of substantial size), a minor collection of twenty-five or so seems quite reasonable. With this relatively small number the gardener can experience trees of nearly every color, shape, and size without undo repetition. Why plant a flowering plum or pear when there are infinitely more interesting choices (with the exception of the gardener who finds these extraordinary, and in this case a collection of plums and pears is unquestionably appropriate)?
And, it’s not that the garden is only Japanese maples and magnolias. There are other, smaller collections of dogwoods and redbuds, nandinas, azaleas, mahonias, and more. Also, there are probably a few one-of’s out there. I’ve planted this garden to please only me, and I don’t care much if anyone has to say that it’s only a compilation of collections. If that’s not truly a garden, it’s not a bother to me.
If you’ve followed these pages for long, no doubt you’re aware that much of what I do in the garden displeases my wife (who prefers more open space, and even lawn), so if I can tolerate her barbs not much else is likely to disturb me. If I want to plant one of every cold hardy passionflower vine, or another magnolia (or five), that’s what I’ll do, and it’s no matter that this is more evidence to substantiate the generalization that men are collectors. Perhaps it’s a fact, and if so, good for us.