“The chief vice of gardens is to be merely pretty.” -Fletcher Steel
I came across that quote when reading grounded design, the blog of a landscape architect, on “Why We Plant“…and it got me thinking.
It is an idea that can be extended to many an artistic endeavor. I think that people who are in the business of beauty most find themselves bored by the merely pretty and taken with a presentation of something with the ability to portray and catch more of human emotion. If you watch “Top Model”, this idea pops up quite a bit: just a pretty face is considered a liability in a sea of pretty faces. Something more is wanted.
And that likely has to do with the eye’s hunger for something to rest upon, something that defies a tendency to “sameness”.
I had to admit to myself the fault of striving for the merely pretty. It happens in our gardens and also in our blogs. It is the easy way out, which demands little thought, but what might we be missing when overlooking the “faults” of a place? What chance for bringing out the genius loci, “the spirit of a place”, or in the case of our blogs, our own voice. What might we miss in our headlong pursuit of the perceived popular? I wonder.
Another phrase from that article I read was that our aim of landscaping a garden is to “create the conditions where people can have an experience of beauty.” It is an expression of an opinion I have long held, that we as humans need to connect with nature. The expansive, mind blowing experience of nature expressed in something grander than ourselves. We need our forests, lakes, canyons, and wetlands, our views of unbroken beach and ocean, mountains and all the microcosms and viewsheds that capture those experiences for us. We have a vital need of those things, and our gardens help to cement our connection with this greater experience. Our gardens are personal spaces where we explore that need, and satisfy it, where we take a piece of the greater expression of nature and craft it …direct it… to make those conditions to notice its beauty.
But sometimes we busy ourselves with defacing the unique character of our places with those attempts at the “merely pretty”.
What might this exercise in thinking otherwise inspire in us? To sit and really look at our landscape, to savor what is the feature of its own beauty, its own native components that we might celebrate and accentuate, to bring out the spirit of our place in our own expression of what a garden means to us personally. It can start out with a view we want to focus on, or a feature of our landscape that is begging to be cultivated, whether stream or grove, rocky outcropping or flat grassland. And as in art, it can also be the implantation of something of our fantasy, a little created space which we have created to remind ourselves of what we find most beautiful in the world. Between the celebration and the fantasy there is such a wide spectrum of creativity available to plumb. It is in the constant variation of that in which we find our fascination with each others gardens, and our experiences of discovery and delight in those and in our own.
Somehow it brings me around to that old adage, “Bloom where you are planted”. Bring out your own beauty, and the beauty of the place… help others experience that unique perspective.
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© 2012 written for Ilona’s Garden Journal. An excellent blog.