Friday, May 27, 2011
Old Gardens and Young Men
As an old man, I will be a young gardener.
The line is not my own, but within those 10 words is a lot of story.
I have bought and sold a number of houses over the course of my life, and with each one I have been cognizant that while I was sure to make this yard my own, I should also pay attention to the fact that 250 years of gardeners had already worked my home soil.
Why were the drains placed where they were?
Why was this tree chosen for this location, and why had it survived when clearly there had been other options and other trees that had not made the cut?
Look at the ancient bush sprawled next to the path. Was that wisdom or ignorance, industry or sloth, inspiration or failure of imagination? And how was I to know?
What is certain is that every garden has mistakes.
I can say with some confidence that an ancient magnolia planted in my own yard 40 years ago was a very bad idea. The ground on top of my hill is too dry, the climate too cold. My hill is not a swamp, and I do not live in South Carolina.
With equal certainty, however, I can say that a pile of winter sticks in the far corner of my yard is a beautiful bush in August, and that the slate path set in mortar in my back yard is of a clever design that drains sheets of water off the hill in a heavy rain.
I would never know why things are the way they are if I had not spent a year observing and listening to the gardeners that came before.
And so it is in nature, I suppose.
Before we chainsaw and plow, rip and drain, build and burn, perhaps we should be required to study the land for four full seasons so that we can truly understand what is in the yard -- and why -- before we move to sweep it all aside.
There were gardeners here before us. Surely they were not all crazy, hazy, stupid or blind?