“Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,
something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.”
Billy Collins, Forgetfulness
My Mom once joked about how she couldn’t remember the names of her kids because she was trying to remember the Nicene Creed. Seemed a bit of mixed priorities to me, but her sense of humor was as strong as her faith.
Much is made of how gardens are great places to learn important life lessons: birth, death, renewal, reincarnation: all the garden metaphors that mean so much to gardeners. But gardens are also good places to go to forget. Sometimes, forgetting is a good thing. Short term memory loss not only makes it possible for me to keep meeting exciting new people, it allows me to wrap my own Xmas presents. And let’s face it, who needs to remember the capital of Paraguay when there’s Google?
Looking at old pictures of my back yard, like this spring ’04 shot with Dopey, I am confronted with a number of horticultural experiments that failed. I have pictures of many plants, lavished with high expectations, who perished from one of the four horsemen of garden failure: neglect, pestilence, flood or drought. Sure, I’ve learned from each failure, but I’ve forgotten more than I recall. I once tried grow a plumeria in a flower pot, but didn’t know it was deciduous, so when it lost its leaves in the winter, I tossed it out. Surely, you’re thinking, I could have bothered to open the Western Garden Book and given a glance at the entry for plumeria. To which I reply: don’t call me Shirley.
I have since learned a great deal about gardening from reading books. But I still seem to learn more by trial and error. My former fire-pit now filled with succulents is thriving on the big rock bordering the back vegetable garden. Perhaps you’re thinking I would learn better if the price of failure was starvation. Or if I had a better short term memory, or perhaps, a better system of making detailed entries in a garden journal. To which I say, don’t call me Perhaps. I enjoy forgetting failures as much as I enjoy celebrating horticultural successes.
Besides, there’s a long tradition of forgetting some important mistakes made by gardeners. After their parents were evicted from the original garden, according to our creation myth, Adam’s sons Cain and Able got to work at, respectively, cultivating gardens, and raising sheep. But when they each offered God some of their work products, God rejected Cain’s gift of a harvest in favor of Able’s baby lamb, or so the story goes.
Long story short: Cain killed Able. Which means, as Germaine Greer reminds us, that the whole human race is descended from a murdering gardener. Which makes my almost-forgotten plumeria murder not seem so bad after all.