Wednesday, December 18, 2013

On Lincoln's Sunken Gardens

I got really frustrated listening to the folks from Sunken Gardens on the radio today. First, I must admit that I've never enjoyed the Sunken Gardens here in Lincoln -- I do think it's a waste of a fascinating space and of annuals; I'd love to see a native perennial garden that blooms from April to November and is a beautiful place / destination in winter with plants left standing, but Lincoln is pretty behind in this regard... have to go to Chicago or New York for that. I also had high hopes for Union Plaza on O Street, but that's a tepid bust.

I listened about new impatiens that are drought tolerant, so are great for a Nebraska garden. Then care for elephant ears. Lily of the valley. Hosta. My god -- the same old plants we've been using forever that ain't gonna help any native wildlife. The Sunken Gardens teaches people that flamboyant beauty must be maintained all the time with lots of water and fertilizer and switching out plants and soil amending and work work work then toss money at it like rice at a wedding (don't toss rice, please). Gardens are not plastic art -- they are living ecology, a dynamic nexus where we meet the world we depend upon. The Sunken Garden's lesson is that nature is primarily an aesthetic painting to be placed on a romantic, 19th century pastoral pedestal and enjoyed for human purposes only in a very momentary way. I'm tired of this frankly outdated perception of what gardens are, a perception that's led to a lot of environmental trouble, but lots of people like it. I just wish we had the other side of the coin represented in Lincoln -- and we don't. Do we? Where? Please don't say the monoculture beds of Union Plaza where milkweed and chokeberry are evenly spaced in neat rows.

As for next year's "Thunderbird" theme at the garden, I immediately got concerned when I heard talk about Native American design. Which tribe? What symbols? What meanings do those symbols have to that tribe's culture? Will you teach the public? Did you consult with any Native Americans? I heard a very reductionist, white-romantic conversation about using red, yellow, and white colors and zigzag / diamond designs. I hope this won't be yet another disservice to the cultures we pushed to the brink (if you're picking up on a link between human and animal / insect cultures and the relation between how we treat both, then we're on the same page). Our public gardens need to think more on multiple levels -- I just don't see it happening in my city.

3 comments:

scottweberpdx said...

What a waste of a great opportunity to celebrate that which makes your area so distinctive. There are so many fabulous native plants to choose from...and doing so would also reduce the work needed to maintain the space (especially if allowed to remain standing during winter). Honestly, though, most public plantings are this way everywhere...Portland being no exception.

Benjamin Vogt said...

You're right Scott, most public gardens are like this -- and I think it's now outdated. We can't garden like this anymore, but I'm also making uncomfortable leaps of connection to larger issues in our culture. The Sunken Gardens does get a lot of private support, and I'm sure that support wants what it's getting.

dryheatblog said...

Agreed, as the 2nd of the Nebraska-exes chimes in. These artiste designers (LA's) and public property stewards often making 6 digits make me sick, with their total lack of savvy, and full-bore embracing of statism. Science and art need to merge, beyond just shade trees, paving, and cute patterns with plants...