Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Garden Divorce with Sunflower

Gardens do so much for us. They console us, welcome us, connect us. They bring us moments of peace and reflection. They humble. They teach. Unfortunately, we also idealize our gardens (see previous sentences), place them on a pedestal so magnificent they almost seem untouchable and impervious to critique or change. This is a sort of marginalization, the same thing we do when we call nature "mother" and give it inherent or subconscious second class status -- something passive, subservient, or something that's there for us only when we want it.

We need more mindfulness in gardens. We need a sort of Buddhist mentality of practiced displacement so we know our world and place from as many angles as possible -- this tests then confirms or shatters our belief structures and makes us better creatures. I wish gardeners could spend a week sitting by a sunflower observing every insect, every interaction, every rain drop and breeze that effects the plant. If we could see the garden through the eyes of a sunflower, would we become better gardeners? How would our practice change? How would our interaction with flora and fauna, with humans, morph in the coming months and years?

If we could experience the garden through the life in it, I think our gardens might look very different. We'd practice a sort of selfless art, informed by science, literature, art, philosophy, and even religion -- and in turn the garden would reshape those larger areas of knowledge and belief. We'd exercise both sides of our brain and maybe involve a little bit more heart.

A garden is not at any stage an Eden (neither is nature). It is not a place of exclusion or seclusion. A garden is not an idealization of perfection or a perfected idealization. A garden is not for me, but is a nexus of everything I did not understand or realize before I had a garden -- of species, interactions, and methods.

A garden, once created, is a selfless expression of faith. Think of it as a big bang and the ensuing free-forming evolution of life. A garden is created not with self as the centering, ordering property, but as everything else as centering and ordering, like drawing a still life by filling in the shadows first in order to give objects definition (my art teacher in high school taught me this concept).

A garden will never be nature, and it will always be limited by our conception and perception of what nature is in our eye at one moment in time. Just as we evolve, the garden should evolve. A garden is an interpretation, and is as a result as fallible as we are in our knowledge and beliefs, which change through discovery and practice. When I look out my window to the garden I don't see myself as instigator or even creator, in the end I hope to not even see myself -- it is the sunflower turning to face the daylight, pollen in the bloom and nectar along the stem, ants and butterflies and bees and beetles. The sunflower is the instigator and creator. The sunflower is the moment a garden ceases to be a garden and becomes a conduit to freedom from the tyranny of our man-made reality, a reality too often divorced from nature.


Mike Fitts said...

Benjamin, two years ago, I ditched my rose garden and planted a bunch of natives in hopes of being a more care-free area. I knew very little, at the time, about what I was planting other than I liked the way they looked. Since that time, though, I have been studying a lot about the prairie ecosystem, about restoration, ecology, geology and hydrology. To put it lightly, I am obsessed.

Some of the plants have died, a consequence of my lack of education at the time. This year, my little patch is getting revamped. Prairie plants native to Ohio and to my soil type. I'm going seasonal as well with some Cool-season grasses and a few things like Stout Bue-eyed Grass and Yellow Starflower and also some stuff for the fall like New England and Sky-blue Asters and Prairie Gentian.
I may be a little more educated than I was two years ago but I am looking forward to what I learn from my patch after all of the changes.

Thanks for this blog post. It got me thinking even clearer yet.

Benjamin Vogt said...

That's sounds cool and very exciting, Mike. I think we learn best when we fail best. :) Is smooth aster and aromatic aster native to you? Aromatic is very, very late blooming for me (last, in fact). Also look at sedges -- many are VERY adaptable, not just moist loving. Have you been to Ohio Prairie Nursery SE of Cleveland?

Mike Fitts said...

I have not been to OPN as of yet but am planning a trip next month. I live in Akron so I am not that far away from it.

Smooth Aster is local to my county but Aromatic Aster is not, It only located in a few counties and it is rare in those few.

I do like the idea of sedges but had not thought of it. I think sedge and I think wet meadow. I am definitely going to check into it though.

Thanks for the tips!

BlackfootNativePlants said...

How wonderfully freeing it is to place our gardens inside of our total experience making them part of our personal evolutions and as such change is merely reflections of ourselves. Love it!

Benjamin Vogt said...

BNP -- Yeah, that's what I meant! You said it better and in fewer words! :)

scott jakovics said...

Very Taoist in that as soon as you name it or define it, you lose IT.

I crawl through my milkweed patch and stumble upon swinging lacewing eggs. I notice other lacewing larvae resembling those prehistoric-looking Japanese horror movie creatures that used to fight Godzilla. These miniature monsters square up on some unsuspecting aphid and a battle ensues. I am there to see the whole thing! It's epic and I notice ladybug and ladybug larvae also in the mix. They are feasting on the aphids which have set up their greasy yet, very remarkable colony on my milkweed. There are ants and wasps too. I feel like I am knocking on the door to be a part of it but can only see it through a window.

Suddenly there is a booming voice, "What are you doing now dude"? "Huh", I think. I look up to see my neighbor peering over the fence he put up to divide our yards. He says, "You said to say something if I noticed odd stuff in your yard..this looks odd".

Here I was on my hands and knees crawling through my milkweed patch. I realized it must look silly so I start to explain about the acrobatic lacewing eggs. "They are like aerialists swinging from under the leaves....." He just says, "I need to start mowing". "Right", I say under my breath.

I sat up and thought, "Wow, I totally lost myself in that milkweed patch". But then I thought, "Maybe I actually found myself...or least a part of myself that was lost generations ago"? I won't ever know but there is something there. I keep feeling it.

Beatriz Moisset said...

This is a profound and poetic manifesto of gardening. Everybody should have the opportunity to read it.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Scott -- You're speaking my language!
Beatriz -- Maybe I can include this in my book project. I hadn't really thought of it, but maybe....

Kathy Vilim said...

Observation in the Wildlife Garden is key. I love your "being a sunflower for a week." Really nice, Ben. Thanks for sharing this.