You may love gardening and think there is nothing wrong with it. That would have been me. Little did I think when picking up a book that appeared benignly similar to most books of its kind, that I would happen upon some thoughts that deeply expressed the way I view gardening. Now, after all these years.
The expression of this started out general enough:
“The single most essential element in any garden is not some particular object, plant, or tool. What’s vital is the gardener who loves it.”
It almost seemed like an inane thing to say …why, it was obvious wasn’t it? Until, like many profound things, the initially obvious became the core from which the whole had moved far from; and the dawning insight outlined the actual situation. Gardening has become displaced from the gardeners and their love of the wonderful world of plants.
When was the last time we understood that we the gardeners are the most essential part of our gardens? Doesn’t that seem like environmental heresy? Like some hearkening back to ancient and mistaken thinking? A pre-Galilean gardener-centric way of thinking?
“The garden has become a product, a home-improvement project, a look. … Gone… is the ongoing process and relationship gardeners seek and enjoy, as gardening becomes a goal-driven activity with the desired end product a garden once installed should be maintained with minimum of effort and involvement.”
We are so inculcated with these ideas that we might be wondering “Is that a bad thing?”
It is an imbalanced thing, which as gardeners we know can be a bad thing.
The book I have been reading is “Plant Driven Design” by Scott and Lauren Ogden. This post is not a book review which I hope to do soon, but some commentary on the ideas.
Ideas, which are almost “eureka” in character. A type of synthesis involving many ideas of how we approach nature and how we garden, along with many garden philosophies that we have absorbed in an almost osmotic way from books, magazines, and public examples.
Garden has fashion, but it is not fashion, and the idea that your garden could be trendy is just the sad example of how far away we have strayed from being in touch with the earth. I want to get back to the garden, literally, and in my writing about it, too.
That message, that the gardener and the relationship to the plants is so important, is buried within some of the ideas of the truly great gardeners, as well.
The iconic name that conjures up reverence is surely Gertrude Jekyll, and who seems to have molded the garden more to design than she? Yet, if you read one of her famous statements, and if you are familiar with her writings it is apparent how much the plants themselves, and the delight of intimacy with them and their cultivation took precedence for her. The quote cited by the Ogdens:
“The first purpose of a garden is to give happiness and repose of mind, which is more often enjoyed in the contemplation of the homely border … than in any of the great gardens where the flowers lose their identity and with it their hold on the human heart and have to take a lower rank as mere masses of colour filling so many square yards of space.”
We have taken her advice of planting in drifts to extrapolate into big blocks of “color” with a Mondrian-like impersonality of shape rather than the individual traits of the plants.
We, then, have lost touch with those aspects of nature that can humanize our existence and instead have mechanized everything into patterns and recipes and methods.
All good and well for beginning our concepts (like coloring book pictures help us to understand what something might elementally look like), but not the best for enjoying the beauty of the interplay between us, our plants, and our homes.
We are reducing the process too much, too completely, and losing sight of what makes a garden such a wonderful part of our lives: the interaction of us with nature, and with the plants themselves.
I have spent many hours of reading, implementing, and thinking of gardening in terms of design -the William Robinson to Piet Oudolf views, that I dropped the more intimate and satisfying aspects that are obvious in the writings of some of the garden essays of earlier times. Why do we love Louise Beebe Wilder or Celia Thaxter? It is the resonance we feel with their love of their own gardens, the plants and their growth, appearing like old friends during their expected seasons.
I do believe, if we knew to look for this fascination with plants and love for the making of the garden in every garden writer or guide, we would find it. I believe, further, that it is resident in some way in all of us. To find that part that answers to the beauty of the creation inside us is our profile as a gardener.
I now have found an expression of what I would call my own garden philosophy. A new favorite book, and as I read through it and absorb its lessons, I hope to give a future review so others may think about how this all fits with their own views and experience.
So, exactly what is wrong with gardening today?
- It is seen as a set of projects instead of an occupation and pleasure.
- Results in overuse of inappropriate plants and disappointed gardeners (especially “would-be” gardeners)
- A loss of the unique in gardens and in the genius(spirit) of a place
- A disconnect between people and nature
- Boring sameness in uninspired neighborhoods, people’s loss of interest in making a garden.
- Poorly grown, little understood plantings.
We think by presenting gardening as something easy, mindless, and trendy that we will interest more people in doing it. That isn’t what interests people. People want those qualities in something viewed a drudgery and obligation. Not something that they will willingly, even sacrificially, take time out for. They reserve those efforts for something they care about that create a sense of accomplishment and enjoyment.
What can we do differently:
- Present gardening as a challenging, but rewarding activity ( which it is)
- Be truthful about gardening: no instant gardening, no “easy,no work” gardening, or promises of one that will seemingly take care of itself.
- Share the wealth of our plants and plant knowledge, encourage wise gardening methods for good results.
- Have more fun in our gardens- laugh more, compete less. Generally this will make our lives better, why not our gardens?
- Let the good of the gardener and the plants come first.
And read more books like Plant-Driven Design: Creating Gardens That Honor Plants, Place, and Spirit.
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© 2010 written for Ilona’s Garden Journal. Copyrights apply.
Teresa O says
Hello Ilona! It’s been so long since I’ve been in your neck of the woods. I loved this essay and this is a book I must read. I say here, here with enthusiasm as I have always been a gardener who loves what I love, damn the trends. The major reward I receive from gardening is the intimate relationship I develop with the plants I grow. Much like children, I nuture, celebrate, and mourn the ups and downs that happen in the garden. Learning photography has enhanced this relationship.
I’m so glad you stopped by the Cottage and I’m equally as glad I stopped by to read your Garden Journal.
Have a grand day!
Dee @ Red Dirt Ramblings says
Ilona, it’s a wonderful book written by two devoted gardeners. You’re right, I think we talk too much about the perfect tool or plant instead of the essence itself. I love what you’ve done with your blog btw. It’s very very inviting. I’ll be back more and more.~~Dee
Thank you both for taking your time to comment. with many of my favorite garden bloggers, like both of you, I know it was preaching to the choir, but it is easy to get caught up in the fashions and forget the essence.
May we all link hearts and promote what is really wonderful about gardening: development of our own love and skills and the discovery of the wonder of the plantings.
Thank you Dee, for the words of encouragement 🙂