Speaks for itself, this article. It comes with a great addition: a piece of original artwork by Paul Steer, created especially to accompany this piece. Thank you to both contributors – and anyone/thing else involved….
Anne Wareham, editor
I was cutting away at some Hawthorn trees one Saturday morning in an attempt to accentuate their wild quality and thinking how terribly clever I was to:
1. Have seen the potential of Hawthorn to enhance a garden scene and
2. Have recognised and overcome the contradiction of modifying the wild growth of a plant to make it speak more eloquently of wilderness.
While studying my new vista I was interrupted by a flock of a dozen or so Long Tailed Tits as they made their way through the canopy, some pecking at the last berries in the branches above me and some of them rummaging through its lichens. I won’t waste undue time on the charm of these birds but for those of you unfamiliar with them just think Meerkats and for those of you who can now think only of car insurance, what wonders the World has for you still to discover.
On the Sunday, after lunch, I went out to finish some repairs to a newly restored dam that had been knocked about by our recent rains and as I reached the pond an Egret flew off from its fishing stand to a neighbouring field where it eloquently communicated its impatience for me to leave. My weekend spelled out for me in the large, bold, capital letters that are sometimes required what is so special about the practice of gardening and furthermore what sets it apart from the other arts. Quite simply it is the presence of three distinct actors in the process of creation.
The first actor is the technician or artist or gardener or whichever title best describes the individual with their hands in the soil for you. It is to this person that we look to for the preparation of the ground, building of the structures, selection and propagation of the plants and the tending of the garden once complete. From grounds-keeper to celebrity garden designer all of our specialisms can be found encompassed here along with every shade of excellence and failure, praise and pedantry.
The second actor is the society in which the technician operates. The cynic, which bubbles up in all of us every now and then, sees this as the cause of all confusion and corruption because it is the source of all the fashions and fads that sweep us up in the vortices of a thousand conflicting opportunities to conform. This is too limited for though there are undoubtedly zealots and bores there are also sages and movements which link gardening to the rest of the arts and their social context. By doing so the garden is made relevant to those other than their immediate creators and beneficiaries and of use to students of later ages. To the skilled author such as Nan Fairbrother and her superb book “ Men and Gardens” (which as an aside should be a set text for those wishing to delve a little deeper than their Runner Bean trench), the form of gardens reflects the basic needs, fears and passions of the age to which they belong.
So far all the other arts can keep up and reverently place their own creative process alongside ours but at this point I am afraid we must leave them behind, for the next actor has only the most marginal interest in their scribbles, daubs and ditties.
The third actor is the rest of creation. God if you will or heaven if you are of an oriental philosophical persuasion. ‘Nature’ seems a little mean to me, but if you prefer so be it and in any case it is indifferent to what we call it. The most obvious manifestation of its favour and abandonment is the weather and so obvious a feature is it that we will usually put it in the realm of the technician.
But just think a little more deeply about the nature of the garden’s enhancement through the loan of a fine sunset or dew on a spider’s web and while these may be shallow draughts from the barrel of cliché we can, I think, all recall them while also bearing in mind the more personal examples such as those with which I started this piece. The better the garden’s design and implementation the more use it is able to make of these chance offerings.
Bear in mind that whether or not this beauty was seen it still came into existence and the garden responded independently of its technical creator in a way no painting ever could. So far so lovely but there is the other side of the equation is the drought that burns, the rain that drowns and the slugs that devour along with every other pestilence and misfortune that spoil the garden and discourage the technician. We can of course win petty victories through skill and planning but to face fear and trepidation in the face of uncontrollable forces is something we must experience as humans if we are to properly appreciate true beauty for its elusive and fragile habit. And furthermore did your Hostas not delight the snails that found them?
Given the potential breadth of the subject and the many contributions that can yet enhance it it feels premature to state assuredly that gardening is the only truly transcendent art form, especially after so brief a discussion, but for what they are worth its final words are these:
That while a man may measure all things in inches and his society appraises his efforts in yards so heaven sees only in miles.
with art by Paul Steer (Paul’s blog, ‘Letters to Monty’ )