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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

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Consultation and coaching for do-it-yourselfers is provided. Occasional emailed questions are welcome and answered free of charge. Oui, je parle francais.

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Entries in behavioral science (1)


Through the Eyes of a Gardener  

Supermarket Hibiscus by Roy Latham, QuickShotArtist.comNature bestowed upon my family the trait of acute perception. We see things others miss. This ability is a useful tool when communicating with difficult people, but a handicap when it overwhelms us with more information than we can process. We have no control over the spontaneity and speed with which our eyes gather data. It just happens.

Those who share this trait sometimes observe what they cannot understand, and that makes them anxious. Stress may be generated when an object that is out of place is first noticed. In the garden, I am irritated when I see subtle flaws in my work.

My uncle became a renowned home decorator by used this gift. He was valued for his skill in selecting and mixing the perfect shade for a wall’s color. Keen observation helped my father understand human nature. It made him a better restauranteur, a field where peering into other people’s souls is an effective way to help patrons decide what they want to eat. He and his sisters also used their sharp eyes to determine what made people tick.

Whenever they walked into a room, their attention would be drawn to a person whose deportment reflexively attracted their brain’s attention. First, they observed the body deportment and determined if the individual walked tall or inhibited. They noticed the facial expression, the knit of the brow, the purse of the lips, eye movement, eye contact and if the stare was piercing or diffused, whether the eyelid was wide open or lowered, the timber of the voice, the pallor of the skin, the strength of a handshake, and if it was warm or clammy.

They were also keenly aware how people expressed themselves, the choice of words, the inflection of voice, if a question was answered directly, if it was deflected, or if it was ignored. Sometimes, what they presumed they had discovered about a person upset them, deeply. Although they never willed it to happen, nothing about anyone escaped their scrutiny.

I too have the ability to absorb reflexively more visual information than I need. This occurs each time I walk into a crowded room and it overwhelms me. When I visited a nursery for the first time, my eyes darted back and forth over thousands of plants, like untamed horses racing through the wilderness, and I was unable to stop them. Today, with a better understanding of how my behavior is affected by the family DNA, I prefer to socialize in small groups and I don’t go shopping for plants unless I have a list to follow.

When I entered the work force, I used my genetic inheritance to hone my skills in design. I spent over 40 years staring at objects and analyzing colors, shapes, and textures. I would not call it work because the skills that defined the career positions were second nature to me. Designing a product took less time than it did for me to learn how to ski downhill.

Today, these skills are assets when I create flowerbeds. Yet, having this facility can also be an Achilles heel; sometimes I see more in the garden than is necessary to do my work, and I lose my concentration. Then, if I canvas my staff’s opinion, their fresh perspective will help reset my focus.

My eyes are so discerning that I am severe when evaluating the gardens I’ve designed. Although most homeowners are pleased with what I have done, sometimes I am not. After a project is finished, it remains a work of progress in my head. With closed eyes, I imagine that something is not quite right and I send a message to my brain that somewhere a flowerbed awaits tweaking. No one else sees the need to fine-tune it, only I do.  Even in my private garden, of all who come to admire, few - if any – notice the faults that I perceive to be there.

It is fortunate that acute perception has helped me achieve my career goals. Although this trait sometimes gets in the way, I have come to terms with the affect that it has upon me. I used to regard it as a handicap, but not anymore. If anything, it is my strength; it defines who I am.