Do gardeners want to put down deep roots, plant trees, and watch them ever so slowly become massive and still presences in the landscapes of their personalities?
No, the people who do that are not gardeners.
Do gardeners strive to take a slice of earth stuck in this noisy contemporary moment and make it timeless, to express some eternal mystery in the relationship between humanity and nature?
Only in theory.
In my observation, the more passionate a gardener is about the series of acts called gardening, the more perverse and restless he or she is, too. Oh my, did that plant just die? Let me cry a crocodile tear and stick in a replacement, something exciting and weird I’ve never tried before! Did the garden just get flooded out? Did I downsize my way out of a place I’ve shaped for 20 years? Did I just get fired, foreclosed on, divorced, widowed, thrown off the land I’ve been squatting on by the city?
Yeah, it’s terrible.
And now let’s start anew! A new plan! More plants! New plants! Better design this time! A new kind of soil! Experiments galore!
Gardeners see the yard the same way billionaires see marriage. Life is a banquet, and if the current situation has become unsettling, there is always another lovely blonde out there to offer a fresh start.
I was thinking of the weirdness of our attitude towards change just this week because my neighbor stopped by to discuss the new fence she and I are getting on our property line. The old wooden fence has been falling down for years, thanks to a post or two that wandered in our light, sandy soil. She can’t take it any more. And indeed, it looks crazy from my side, but certifiable from hers.
But a new fence on our property line means dealing with the denizens of my side of the fence, particularly a ridiculously healthy ‘New Dawn’ rose; the accompanying large-flowered clematises, which are doing surprisingly well for large-flowered clematises, a fussy group of characters, I find; a pair of hardy kiwis that haven’t yet flowered; an ‘Alchymist’ rose that isn’t nearly as much of a feature as ‘New Dawn,’ but is growing pleasingly into an ‘Adelaide Dunbar’ lilac. Plus the lilac, lots of lilies, an unhappy blue mist shrub or two, many undistinguished perennials and one that I happen to love–telekia–a meadowy weed with huge, coarse chartreuse leaves and yellow daisylike flowers at shoulder height.
My neighbor’s yard guy Ralph, who has been engaged to put up the fence, refuses to go near the issue until I saw down ‘New Dawn.’ Ralph is not foolish.
So my neighbor said to me with that saintly combination of good manners and puzzlement that characterizes most of my neighbors’ interactions with me, “Are you sure you want to do this? I feel so bad for your beautiful garden.”
Oh, I’m sure. And besides, why would anyone pity ‘New Dawn’? Yes, I’m sorry that ‘New Dawn’ won’t get to produce her thousand flesh-colored, hybrid tea-like perfect blooms this year.
But ‘New Dawn’ is a meat eater that has evolved to ensnare gardeners with its hooked thorns, wait until they expire, and then use their corpses for fertilizer. I once got a New Dawn thorn caught in my ear and would have decomposed there if my son Milo hadn’t bravely wrestled the cane off and out of me. So, it’s not as if I expect to be consumed with sorrow, sawing this thing down to stump. Instead, it will feel like an act of revenge. Besides, ‘New Dawn’ will surely exact its own revenge in the numerous bloody injuries it inflicts on me as I conduct this operation. And any plant this healthy is sure to regrow alarmingly from its scaffold anyway. I think that if I really wanted to kill it, some kind of accelerant would be required.
When I was 20 years old, I got to hear Martin Scorcese speak at UCLA. He took questions from the audience, one of which was along the lines of, “Why aren’t your movies nicer?”
He said a great thing: “If you don’t like violence, you don’t like the movies.”
Well, if you don’t like death and destruction, a least a little, you don’t like gardening.
Yes, what’s happening on the fence now is pretty. But it is not nearly as interesting as taking my accumulated wisdom and sharklike character and starting anew there.