We are judged on almost everything we do in life. Think about it. You bake something and a verdict is passed. You paint, write, sing, sculpt, build, invent, teach, sell or parent and there is a panel that is on the ready to make a pronouncement. Our culture enjoys a certain comfort in deeming things pass/fail, right/wrong, beautiful/ugly, amateur/professional, successful/unsuccessful, crude/sophisticated. This makes being true to oneself rather difficult.
We are afraid to call ourselves an artist if we have not shown in an exhibit or a writer if a book has never been published. You might be an engineer with the correct schooling and degrees but you can be a sculptor as well. Even if what you sculpt is done at night and your art is seen only inside your home. But how hesitant we are to declare it in public! Too timid to question the system that denies one one’s many faceted, undeniably special persona.
Who are these social pundits and what exactly are their qualifications to be so judgmental? A certain degree of parameters make sense. For instance, rules of the road are very relevant. The same goes for how we conduct ourselves in society. They serve as guidelines, standard markers that make civilization thrive. One learns how to reach higher and do better. Peaceful, cooperative societies must have general rules and acceptable limits. This works fine but all too often, we are left somewhat paralyzed by fear of censure in our day to day lives. Because of this, we follow the pack and surrender our individuality. Look around. Our dress, our literature and cinema, our music, the architecture and appearance of residential streets, cars, hairstyles, even our food choices are all dictated by trends set mostly by those who in truth, know no better than anybody else.
We listen to the words of celebrities as though they are the modern day Oracle or are the select few in custody of the Rosetta Stone of Everything. If a person is indeed an expert or legitimate authority, then, they are obligated to teach, help the rest of us. Not deride, mock or judge. Most of us never pause to question if any of this feels right or is suitable at all. To follow our own ideas and thoughts is to be bold and courageous. If you are not breaking the law or harming anybody, then take a big, deep breath and be bold and courageous. Be you.
The easiest place to express yourself is the garden. Society regards the garden like an afterthought. Unless your front garden is a complete jungle or radically different, no one will notice or care. It is as though to spend time gardening means we are not pursuing more important, pressing causes. And if you don’t garden, well who will chide you because after all “who has the time?”.
On the one hand, it is universally accepted that it is vital to have access to nature and we tend to buy as large a property as possible. But on the other, not enough is done to acknowledge and appreciate those who create and care for such green spaces. We can use this attitude to advantage!
Typically, I see it as a means to create whatever garden I like. True, going berserk and making a thirty foot waterfall on a standard suburban plot would be asking for complaints from neighbors and zoning/architectural review boards. But in general, a great deal of leeway exists. Go with your heart and abilities. Convert the whole garden into a vegetable plot. Make it a paradise of peonies. Fill it with all your favorite plants. Gaudy colors, all white beds, minimalist modern, serious native plant collections – go for it. As long as you adhere to what your geographical zone will allow to grow and you do no harm. The latter tenet means not harming people, animals or the environment. Honor the earth. Plain and simple.
So what if none of the neighbors grow vegetables in the front of the house. If that is the most suitable location for a potager, then by all means make the most productive, most beautiful vegetable garden there. Long for a riot of roses? Make it happen! Personally, I’d much rather see a joyous melange of flowers favored by the owner’s unique style than yet another ho-hum, run of the mill suburban property. After all, where is the individual personality of the owner to be found?
The thing is, in gardening, there is no pass or fail. Everything is a learning experience. Your garden is one big open air classroom. Nature is the teacher – she gives no tests, no grades and does not single you out for punishment. Your own talents and interests are nurtured. You join this school at any age, work at your own pace, drop out if you need to, return after a hiatus. Mistakes are permitted! You get rewarded for just showing up. All along, you discover your strengths, overcome difficulties and get empowered for what lies outside the garden walls. You learn to be yourself. No pressure other than what you put on yourself. As it should be. Before long, you will step out of the boundaries of the garden and venture into other realms to make your own personal mark.
If you are hesitant to express your style or state your opinion lest you are chided, get yourself to the garden. Learn, grow strong. You endeavor to garden, so you are a Gardener. The garden gives out no report cards.