The creed of the United States Postal Service is applicable to many efforts but most particularly to those who make growing living things their vocation or avocation. Farmers and gardeners are undaunted by the vagaries of the weather and the threat of climate anomalies. They persevere.
I understand the determination of the farmer. It is his noble, much depended upon livelihood. After all, he feeds the world. The sheer weight of his responsibility insists that he carry on no matter what. It goes without saying that they have our deepest gratitude but a regular expression of thanks would not be amiss.
The persistence of gardeners however is a whole other matter. It is not essential to the survival of mankind. It is actually something of a luxury. It requires time, physical effort and often, as much money as one can squander. Most gardens remain unnoticed and are created for the personal enjoyment of the gardener and his immediate circle. For the most part, the loss or devastation of a garden is not felt deeply by the population at large. It becomes a more personal loss. Sort of like losing a pet. The gardener will do everything to save or salvage his bit of paradise. A hailstorm in summer, a drought or deluge, a hurricane or tornado, an invasion of disease or locusts, personal mistakes, nothing but nothing will deter the intrepid gardener. That to me is utterly fascinating. We never give up.
We try to grow tulips in deer country, tropicals in Zone 5, alpines in Florida, coddle roses during an attack of Japanese beetles, dutifully pick off red lily beetles early each morning, risk fines by surreptitiously watering our lawns in a drought, keep vigil all night to send slugs to their death and thus saving the vegetables, rush out in a lightening storm to prevent seedlings from being washed away, mourn inexplicably and deeply for anything that dies and, continue with so many other Quixotic efforts. We are obsessed with our plants.
And why is this so, you ask? For the simple, straightforward satisfaction and sheer joy of having created something. You see, anybody can be a gardener. For everything else, we tend to qualify ourselves with credentials. As though one is not legitimate until we can say we have a degree, or have published a book, exhibited a painting or performed somewhere. If you tend to plants then you are a gardener. No questions asked. It is that easy.
Gardens have been called the slowest form of performance art. It is true. They change all the time. Every garden is an honest effort at making something beautiful and even useful. Be it good or bad, it is indeed art. A personal expression of the gardener’s taste and philosophy. A writer might start a book and then relegate it to a drawer when she gets stuck, a painter might have a studio full of incomplete canvases, the same can be said for music compositions and dance choreographies. Unless it a vocation, most artists will take breaks to accommodate what life brings along. But not the earnest gardener.
Horticultural mistakes are open to public examination, half completed projects or neglected spaces are visible and so, the gardener has good motivation to try hard to do a good job. It certainly works for me. But more than that, there is that inherent human desire to tame one’s surrounding and make of it a place of delight. To nurture something and help it grow is enormously rewarding. If it is enjoyed by others then all the better. There is an intangible value to gardening. Yet, a true gardener gardens because she must. Like all other passions, she cannot help herself. And thank goodness for that. Imagine a world without gardens – private or public. It would be as sad as removing all music from the world.
Gardens are ephemeral. Reason enough to make their time here as significant as possible.
The photos below demonstrate the transience of gardens. They are all of Untermyer Gardens in Yonkers, New York. It is gradually being resurrected to its former glory – but with a contemporary sensibility.Do visit it – free and open to the public. www.untermyergardens.org
(c) 2013 Shobha Vanchiswar