Putting Everything On The Level Of Garden Catalogs
Do we really have to hype gardening with lots of meaningless superlatives? Run on the quests of finding “the latest trend”? Or promote that everything in gardening can be “made easy”?
I know we pander to marketing ploys as writers, everyone hungry for that scrap ( or maybe boatload) of internet traffic, but is that really what the art of gardening in all about?
It isn’t what drew me in, so many years ago. And it isn’t what caused me to devour many great garden books, books which challenged me to try to reach further than the grasp of my present skills. I did fail quite a bit, but I also experienced some seasons of sublime beauty.
I delved into nature in a way that widened my grasp of history, sharpened my understanding of science, and best of all, drew on all my artistic skills to attempt something creative. All inspired by garden writing.
The surprising thing is that much was done without the aid of multitudes of photographs.
I’m not mourning the proliferation of beautiful pictures of high moments in a garden. I love those photos more than the average person. My imagination thrives on such celebrations of the all too ephemeral perfections of times when fresh blooms and the slant of light combine with just the right atmosphere to capture times all gardeners at some point experience. We revel in the photographs because the actual moments are often too few. Or at least they always seem too short.
But a false presentation that it is easy to achieve that “success” by this or that method is to dumb down gardening. It might sell more plants and books, but it can never deliver the passion of making a garden. That is left to a combination of revelatory experience, the tutelage of a gardening mentor, or the spark from writing that draws us into the whole of the endeavor- the way the garden itself catches us in a net of beauty, fragrance, and imagination.
This Mendocino. California garden grows flowers in abundance that would not thrive in my mid-continental climate. Our gardens here tend naturally to be sparser and more focused in season, unless heroic efforts are made to the contrary. This yard is filled with golden Marguerites, fronted by what looks to be Crocosima. The strange blue blossoms in the background- might they be a type of Hebe?
Yes, I know It Is Non-fiction
Like everyone else, I am interested in skill sets and solutions. Not everything needs to be “high art”, but I am reminded of a conversation with my husband the other day. We were talking- reminiscing, really, of our youth and interests with one of our daughters. We laughed about how we now love history, but our high school history teachers managed to make it supremely dull to learn of wars, treaties, and a long litany of names. Until he remembered a specific teacher who had ignited his interest one semester; then that memory even so many years later lit up his eyes. A teacher who created the high drama of Bolshevik maneuvering, the villainy of Stalin and the gory details of such times came alive in his memory.
Okay, so it wasn’t what would have caught my own interest, but it became indelibly inscribed on a teenage boys memory, perhaps laying dormant for a time until history once again inflamed his interest.
I think that is what gardening and the telling of it, the writing of it, should aim to do. I believe that is what the best garden writers have always done: brought the high drama of the natural world, discovery of its secrets, and celebration of its mysteries and myriad beauties into our hearts and minds with well executed displays.
Not Everyone Is an Expert
I will be the first to admit to my lack as a photographer. It isn’t just my equipment, either. I take photos because it is an important part of a blog. Blogs cannot portray what is necessary, either in thought or to hold interest with words alone. Luckily for me, people are pretty forgiving with the less than perfect picture, and I have watched some of fellow bloggers become true artists with their cameras. They are experts in giving us a record of the high moments of a plant, a time of the day, a particular flower arrangement, and I love that.
But we each have something that we are expert at, or becoming expert at… and sharing that keeps the topic sharp and interesting, the very antithesis of “dumbing down”.
My garden has sometimes succeeded, often failed, in becoming what I had worked towards, imagined, and desired, but it has kept my life filled with wonderful moments, some that can never be caught in a photographed, or even properly painted with words. It is that “song of the garden” which speaks to me, which washes over my senses and soothes me with its fragrance, excites me with its surprises, that has made me a gardener. That is also what I would like to share with the world, so they can find their own discoveries and revelations, while we at times vibrate to the same sounds and partake of that fellowship that nature offers us.
It really is more than mulching, or being the buzz word interest of the moment. It is something transcendent , and I think we have a call of sorts to translate that when we share our gardens. I don’t want to be seduced into flattening the experience of it, or misrepresenting either the pain or pleasure of it. Life surges through nature, and we distill some of that into our practice of gardening , making of landscapes, or merely collecting favorite plants that give us joy. It isn’t “the right way to garden”, or the sum of rules or pressing environmental issues, it is something of the life force that surrounds us all. we get to participate in a grand experiment of growing things , watching things grow, and wondering at how that attracts all sorts of other beings into our sphere.
It can be hard work, sometimes heartbreaking work, but it is also something that heightens our sense of what we are, and what our world is.
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© 2013 written for Ilona’s Garden Journal by Ilona E. An excellent blog.