Thursday, September 6, 2007

Mowing My Lawn, Then Walking the Garden

“Gardening, as compared to lawn care, tutors us in nature’s ways, fostering an ethic of give-and-take with respect to the land. Gardens instruct us in the particularities of place. They lessen our dependence on distant sources of energy, technology, food, and, for that matter, interest. For if lawn mowing feels like copying the same sentence over and over, gardening is like writing out new ones, an infinitely variable process of invention and discovery. Gardens also teach the necessary if un-American lesson that nature and culture can be compromised, that there might be some middle ground between the lawn and the forest—between those who believe it’s time we abdicated our rule and left the earth in the care of more innocent species. The garden suggests there might be a place where we can meet nature halfway.”

-- Michael Pollan, Second Nature

This is a fantastic book on the idea of nature and culture as symbiotic, and delves into the history of the American land ethic with a tight focus on gardens. Pollan states we have no garden history of our own—it is borrowed and subjugated from other cultures and natures. This is interesting to me. If as a culture we are—or at least once were in some way—a melting pot or salad bowl of some sort, wouldn’t this be a benefit? (Is that a lie?) Why can’t we / don’t we create our own style? Pollan suggests it’s because of those darn Puritans, Thoreau, and various other je ne sais quois (the usual suspects).

Point is, the lack of our own distinct garden design ethic is a mirror of our perception of solitude, death, transitivity, and fear of such. Something like that. As I create my own garden I wonder if anything “American” will show its face, or if I am a product not only of my conditioning, but of the nursery industry. Even the fact that I may not live here in four years enforces that transitive nature of my nature. Like the fleeting Angelica Gigas I’ll soon plant, I may be nothing more than an organism on a biennial schedule.

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