Sunday, February 19, 2017

landscape vs. garden

I was working in the garden yesterday, moving rosebushes, amending the soil for their new locations and reworking the drip irrigation system. As is my usual tendency, I had a lot of angst over whether what I was creating looked designed or if I was just a "plunker", the term garden designers use for people who buy pretty things and plunk them into the garden with no plan for design (not to be confused with "plonker" which is a British insult which I will not even attempt to define, but is similarly a derogatory term). Am I just a plunker? I wondered as I hacked my 'Radio Times' rose out from the clutches of the pine tree roots. Did I spend 4 years getting my Master's degree in Landscape Architecture to just be a plunker? I spent a lot of time getting things like line and form and form follows function and limited plant palette drilled into my head. I spent a lot of time looking at how people move through a space and studying theory of landscape architecture, studying theory of theory or metatheory of landscape architecture, for heaven's sake! All that and my garden is a plunker's garden!?

But what's wrong with being a plunker anyway? My mother is a plunker, and her garden is well known for being the most beautiful in her neighborhood, if not the city. In California. Strangers stop by her postage stamp garden to compliment it, and walkers make a point of going by her end of the cul-de-sac to see her garden. Even more important is that she enjoys her garden. Was I so arrogant as to believe that I was better than a lowly plunker because of my education? Or was it some childish or teenage attempt to separate from my parents? Or was it the attitude of my education that design was somehow better than gardening?

Then it dawned on me. Perhaps what I am is a gardener. It didn't matter if I was a plunker or some other level of gardening, what mattered was that I garden. I was supremely pleased that I came to that conclusion. I would have patted myself on the back if my hands were not full of dirt and steer manure. But as I was nestling my 'Radio Times' into her new, well manured and well-dug location, something felt wrong. That nagging feeling stayed with me while I amended the soil, ran drip lines and transplanted 'Jude the Obscure', 'Princess Alexandra of Kent', 'Tranquility' (NOT to be confused with 'Tranquillity'), 'Fabulous!', and 'Anne's Beautiful Daughter.'

My consolation was to turn to my bookshelf. I have perhaps 200 books on gardens, plants and design, and these are the books that are left over after I moved across country and culled about half of them. I have hundreds of magazines: Garden Design that I have saved and filed chronologically since 1996, Horticulture Magazine from 1995, and more. I have read every book, and every magazine on my bookshelf cover to cover. I pulled out several of my favorite issues, some of them worn and with pages nearly falling out from the many times that I've re-read the stories like a child's book of fairy tales. Then the truth finally hit. The reason I was struggling with the idea of being a gardener, is because it was the truth, but only part of the truth.

A blog that I follow made this entry:

Two pink roses: what's the difference? That's 'Bishop's Castle' (Austin, 2007) on the left, and 'Mrs. B. R. Cant' (Cant & Sons, 1901) on the right. They're both roses, both quite fragrant, both pink. One is a new(ish) David Austin rose, which you buy because you see a drop-dead gorgeous photo in the drop-dead gorgeous David Austin catalog, and think, "I want that!". The other is a rose from over 100 years ago, which someone gives you a snippet of for free, saying, "This will root if you stick it in the ground."Do you spend a fair amount of money (plus shipping! and tax! and in this state, tax on the shipping!) for 'Bishop's Castle', because a gorgeous glossy photo has affected your judgement on the virtues of thriftiness? Or do you take the free snippet of 'Mrs. B. R.', and spend 4 years patiently nurturing it until it is big and strong enough to produce those gorgeous flowers? Which one does the true rosarian choose? Easy. Both of them

Am I a gardener or a designer? Easy. I'm both. Some parts or my garden are more designed landscape. Others are more adventurous. But there is always the gardener in my designed spaces, and there is always the designer in my plunking. And there is nothing wrong with that.

1 comment:

  1. I guess I'm both - not artistic-centered that many LA's seem to be (missing hands-on work and science), not plant-obsessed that many collectors seem to be (missing design and geography). Both but neither?

    I respect quite a few in either of the above, though I relate best to those who are both or some other focus. Very interesting thoughts here.