Ornamental gardeners like to distinguish themselves from vegetable gardeners as the rarefied live-for-beauty people.
But is beauty what ornamental gardens are really about? Because to my mind, beauty requires a certain restraint.
And restraint is something foreign to amateur gardeners, who love
to buy plants and love to dig up the picture just when
it's looking really good in order to experiment with something new. (Of course, the pros have to be more directly engaged with questions of truth and beauty in order to draw in new clients, unless of course, their landscape practice happens to be in New Jersey, where truth and beauty are entirely unnecessary.)
The most beautiful yards in my town, for example, are not gardened. They are green and make clever use of just a handful of things–a hedge, a groundcover, a flowering tree or two. It's all very restful.
Whereas the gardeners' yards are all an ungodly riot.
I became aware that my own yard is a riot this week when my husband looked around at the general excess of blooms–hundreds of tulips including a steroidal yellow called 'Big Smile' — as well as those superb tulip drinking buddies the cushion spurges, white bleeding hearts, self-seeded violets, and brunneras –and said thoughtfully, "This place is starting to remind me of the crazy Portuguese lady's place in the neighborhood I grew up in."
I actually had a gander at the crazy Portuguese lady's yard over 20 years ago, on my first trip to California to meet my husband's family. I don't know why he walked me over there. I hadn't yet picked up a shovel, but maybe he just had a foreboding about his own fate. The place surrounded a little yellow and white Craftsman house. It was overgrown, mysterious, full of birdsong, completely unlike the Betty Crocker Zen yards around it, surrounding their Betty Crocker Modernist ranches–all seasonless and impervious to wind and weather. The Portuguese lady's yard, on the other hand, was madly productive, full of flowers and fruits.
Of course, it's possible that a focus on productivity even in an ornamental garden merely suggests that the gardener is in the wrong line, and instead of constantly planting things with blooms as big as cabbages, should be growing cabbages.
Na. I know plenty of pure ornamentalists who are maximalists. Crazy flowers are fun.
My feeling is that beauty is a side product of gardening, but not the ultimate goal, which is vigorous exercise and pagan nature worship. If it's all a little tacky–well, to some people, joy itself looks a little tacky.