Gloria MacKay of Trilogy at Redmond Ridge is a writer of poetry and essays. She shares her thoughts and reflections with her fellow Trilogy members through her Sense of Place article series.

As a home grown Western Washingtonian (I grew up alongside salal, oregon grape, bleeding heart, bracken fern, trilliums, kinnikinnick and yarrow) I remain a bit sensitive about our short growing season: our dependence on ‘season extending methods’ such as swaddling crops in black plastic; a fixation with covering window sills with grim, green tomatoes; the fetish of burying rows of limp, moldy sprouts and re-seeding, fast.

I notice, however, it does not take transplanted garden-lovers, even those from the steaming south or barren plains, long to learn how to make do with what we have. Whether we are old timers or newbies, green thumbers or not, northwesterners seem compelled to nurture something that blooms, if only a pocket of primroses in a pot on the porch. Thank goodness we have experts to guide us.

A master gardener I once knew (not personally, but philosophically) taught me that putting on lipstick and watering the lawn call for the same technique. He did not say this in so many words, and I couldn’t ask for clarification because he was on the radio and I was in my kitchen, but this is how I took it.

All the call-in questions there was time for had been answered as he tossed us one last remark. “Remember folks, if you carefully water around the edges of your lawn you won’t have to worry about the center.” After a segue into Travel Talk, which came next, the theme song took over, but in the background I heard him repeat, “Concentrate on the edges and the center will take care of itself.” It sounded like he was telling us one thing but meaning a whole lot more.

How could this work? Through trickle down osmosis? Does capillary action make right angled turns? Was this really true or was he closing on a metaphorical note? Empirically, his advice made no sense, but the master gardener had spoken. From then on, as long as I had a lawn this is how I watered, and the grass on the other side of the street was seldom greener than mine.

These days I count my gardening chores on one glove: spin fuchsias on nifty swivel hooks; thin overly zealous peppermint; prop the glads; pinch the trailing ivy; prune the evergreen honeysuckle tree, which was given squatter’s rights to the patio but enough is enough. That’s about it, except for the watering. Potted plants crave water the way baby birds gobble worms.

I still stroll through nurseries, not necessarily to buy, but because they are like galleries overhung with still life. I still relish magazines lush with landscaping delights. And every Saturday morning, if I am not out and about on ungardenlike pursuits, I still turn on the radio and listen to gardener talk. I listen as attentively as I did the morning long ago when I received that enigmatic bit of advice. It made no sense at the time…but I finally figured it out.

He knew then what I know now: dealing with the edges is the best way to care for almost anything. The centers get more attention only because they are easier to reach. These days, when I clean my kitchen I work most vigorously around the edges, especially the corners, and give the middle of the floor a quick flick. How often does waxy, yellow build-up pile up right in the middle of the linoleum?  Have you noticed, if a bathroom is caulked and grouted until the edges shine like snow in the sunshine it always looks inviting, even if the towels are askew and there is a hair in the sink?  On the rare occasion I iron, I mostly do collars and cuffs.

I cook the same way. When the edges of an egg-over-easy firm up, don’t assess the yoke: flip it. The way to frost a layer cake is to cover the edges first; you will always have just enough icing left for the top. As for baking cookies, like the gardening guru said, concentrate on the edges and the centers will take care of themselves.

I have learned to keep myself together by my edges, too, even though self-help books tell us to grope inward, find our centers and stay there. I couldn’t put my finger on my center if I had to. My stomach is too high, my behind too much to the rear, and my heart so divided into sections I have decided to just let it be.

Instead, I pamper my edges with lavendery lotions, lemony scents and a back brush. With a swipe of mascara, a bit of lip liner and my golden hoop earrings, without trying I feel as centered as a dart in a bullseye.

The people in my life act more kindly when I stroke them around their edges and stop before it hurts rather than bite into their centers as though I owned them. I don’t know what would have happened to us if I hadn’t been listening to the garden show that Saturday morning long ago.

Actually, I know what might have happened to me. I could have killed myself. I could have fallen off my chair trying to point my watering can right in the center of every single hanging basket on my patio. Instead I switched to standing on my toes and aiming for the edges.

As far as the lipstick, it is the doing of the edges first that separates the men from the boys — metaphorically speaking, of course — which just happens to be the way we gardeners talk most of the time.

By: Gloria MacKay of Trilogy at Redmond Ridge

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