Sunday, May 18, 2008

Spring Gardening as Collaboration

“He that is in a town in May loseth his spring.”
- George Herbert (1593 – 1633)

Our gardens often provide the interface between our geometrically organized living spaces and the comparatively “wild” undeveloped spaces in the sprawling suburbia many of us inhabit. Man rules the urban environment and the architecture we construct to suit our needs and pleasures. Nature rules what’s left of the wilderness beyond our cities and outside our neatly organized suburban dwellings. My dish garden with the empty chair beneath an arbor of thyme and variegated lemon geranium (or pelargonium if you’re being stuffy) often spends winter near a window where I can be reminded of the empty space I long to occupy outdoors. I hope I never miss Spring by spending it cooped up inside somewhere.

Whether they be small patio or balcony gardens consisting of clusters of flower pots, or rambling back yards planted and nurtured on a grand scale, what we do within the (mostly) fenced enclosures that mark the boundaries of “our” property is make a space to transition between the organized world of man and the seemingly chaotic world of nature.

So it is in our cultivated gardens that most of us encounter nature. And it is there – in the process of cultivating our gardens – that we acquaint ourselves with the need to cooperate, not dominate. Every garden is a collaboration between the gardener and nature. Sometimes nature rejects our attempts, and other times nature improves on them.

When a painter paints a landscape, it captures a moment in time, and a vision the painter saw and interpreted. A painted landscape is static. When a gardener creates a garden, while it is possible to capture it in a moment with a camera, gardens are never static. Even a paved sculpture garden is subject to the play of light and shadow, rain or snow, that re-shapes what we see. As any gardener knows who has watched a treasured plant succumb to the forces of nature, gardens evolve in ways not always within control of the gardener.

Thus, for better or worse, our gardens exemplify our collaboration with nature, and teach us the best way to garden is to establish a friendly co-dependence with the forces of nature – our seasons, our soil, our changing climate. My zen frog, barely visible beneath another small arbor backed by another miniature tree of lemon geranium, seems to be silently meditating on something profound about collaborating with nature.

As I pause during this busy season of cleaning, planting, ordering, and acknowledging my past gardening failures, I once again learn the lessons of patience, acceptance and co-dependence that I seem to forget during winter when my garden is left to itself. My garden brings out the best in me, even though I often fail to return the favor.

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