Mitchell made these observations at least 25 years ago. Too bad they’ve proven to be timeless.
It’s important, isn’t it, to think of the garden as a wonderful place to be, full of wonders, (not necessarily rarities) and enchantments at all seasons. Some mischief has been done, probably, by calling the garden an “outdoor living room,” as if any living room in the world had such wonderful things in it as a garden has. And as for “plant material,” that is one of the supremely vulgar phrases of this language, and I hope if anybody has been using it, he will stop immediately. It is a barbarism. Plants are not “material.” The phrase is commonly used by people of careless habits, indifferent brains, and, I suspect, no morals whatever. We do not want, therefore, any “plant materials” in any “outdoor living room,” but we do want bushes, herbs, flowers, water-plants, and so on, and while we all have sense enough not to expect the impossible, we have a right to expect the magical. [From “Reflections on Gardening” in The Essential Earthman.]
Such was the public’s affection for Mitchell – even among nongardeners – that a person I actually know argues with her mother-in-law over who loved him the most. And my guess is the mother-in-law wins the argument, since she practically stalked him in her futile attempts to get invited to his garden. (I’ve suggested that they put their devotion to good use by writing a Wikipedia piece about him, after recovering from the shocking discovery that one doesn’t exist.) Until his sudden death in 1993, Mitchell wrote the column “Earthman” in the Washington Post for 20 years and luckily for today’s gardeners, they’ve been compiled into books and are still in print. May they stay that way.
Just one more quote before I sign off. From the same chapter and book: “A fellow reproaches me for mentioning too many plants he’s never heard of and not enough of the ones he has. Marigold, marigold, marigold. So much for that.” Lordy, wouldn’t he have been fun to rant with?
Or visit the aforementioned person I actually know for the recounting of a backyard make-over I initiated with my brutal honesty. It’s just below Pushkin the cat.