5/5/10

May in the garden of my guru

No garden has excited or inspired me more than my friend Emma's garden in Menlo Park, a natural ecology unto itself full of visual sensual interest--color, fragrance, and sound (a yellow jacket's strange, loud clicking noises interrupted our conversation today; a pair of spotted towhees fluttering through were a second distraction in a five minute period).

The example of this garden, with its wide-ranging interest in plants, has empowered me to explore the limits of my space and experiment freely in ways that many garden advice-givers would reject. I'm so glad I've ignored so much advice!

At this point, I feel strongly that gardens should strive to be more than just beautiful, they should be interesting. Beauty has been exhaustively hashed out. I'm exhausted with beauty. The next time I hear about structure, foliage, contrast and repetition I'm going to scream (because I'm tired of yawning). Wake me up when someone wants to talk about making the garden a more interesting place to be.

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Okaaay...rant over. Pictures now!

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Mimulus

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ADDED: In the comments, Pam asks: "But, at the risk of a scream, don't 'structure, foliage, contrast' contribute to that goal? If not, what does make an interesting garden?"

And I replied, Certainly those things contribute, but they are not the only contributors, and those are not sufficient qualities to make the garden interesting. And the conversation is ALWAYS about how the garden is beautiful. How to make the garden function and still be BEAUTIFUL. I'm sorry, so many of these beautiful gardens bore me to tears. Tell me why the garden is interesting, not beautiful.

After all, I can decide for myself if a garden is beautiful.

16 comments:

Blackswamp_Girl said...

AMEN to your rant!
(And I also agree with finding her garden inspirational... wow.)

Christopher C. NC said...

Interest is in the brain and senses of the beholder.

Town Mouse said...

Ha! Why didn't I come up with this. I always talk about wildlife value, but what I really mean is that there must be surprises! Birds, insects, art...Great post

Pam/Digging said...

A big YES to interesting gardens! But, at the risk of a scream, don't "structure, foliage, contrast" contribute to that goal? If not, what does make an interesting garden?

Many of your pictures show garden art, and this is clearly a gardener's garden---the best kind for us gardeners to explore. Infusing one's personality into the garden is, I suspect, what makes the garden interesting, but it's awfully hard to verbalize what makes it so.

Maybe an interesting garden is like pornography. You can't define it, but you know it when you see it.

chuck b. said...

"But, at the risk of a scream, don't 'structure, foliage, contrast' contribute to that goal? If not, what does make an interesting garden?"

Certainly those things contribute, but they are not the only contributors, and those are not sufficient qualities to make the garden interesting. And the conversation is ALWAYS about how the garden is beautiful. How to make the garden function and still be BEAUTIFUL. I'm sorry, so many of these beautiful gardens bore me to tears. Tell me why the garden is interesting, not beautiful.

After all, I can decide if a garden is beautiful.

Tell me why a garden is interesting. I'm not saying I'll agree, but I'm more interested in having that conversation.

chuck b. said...

I repeated myself.

Pam/Digging said...

"Tell me why a garden is interesting."

Yes, that's what I'm asking here too. What makes your guru's garden interesting, Chuck? You show pics, but you don't explain.

So I'm wondering, CAN it be explained? Or is it like beauty (and pornography): you know it when you see it? I'm not trying to goad you. I'm simply interested in having the conversation too. It's an interesting conversation!

chuck b. said...

All I'm saying about my guru's garden is that it has inspired me more than any other garden to experiment without concern for the things most garden advisors would prioritize, and I am very happy about that. That led me to a second point that the conversation is always about beauty, and that we've had that conversation so many times, it's boring. Whether Emma's garden is interesting is irrelevant.

Now I do think it's interesting for it's wildlife, productivity, mix of unlikely elements (roses and Cal natives?), and it's simple enthusiasm for plants, the many variations of I suppose is something I could talk about more.

Anyway, I'm writing on my phone right now and will have to continue later.

chuck b. said...

I think it's curious that we could have long conversations about what makes some example of architecture, or a couture garment, or a painting or any other example of visual art *interesting* (as opposed to merely beautiful), but there's something special about gardens that make them too subjective for that assessment, so we can only discuss their beauty. Or that gardens can only be interesting insofar as they are beautiful. Or that we should value their beauty above all else. I don't believe that!

And doesn't it seem strange that we can talk about a garden's beauty so objectively and analytically (e.g., my complaint about the very, very tired discourses about foliage, structure, repetition, and contrast), but we quickly yield to the impossibility of discussing a garden's interesting-ness. Doesn't that seem like a surrender?

How many things in life do we value simply because of their beauty?

Christopher C. NC said...

I've thought about it. A garden is interesting when it elicits some kind of emotional response, even if subconscious, in the viewer.

Andrew said...

This IS an interesting conversation! I'm with you. When I build a garden, it's very much part design -- which comes with all those design prinicples; I use them as guideposts -- and part alchemy, because that's what makes it fun, pushes the limits of what I've learned is "good" or "correct," and ultimately what inspires me most in gardening. To me, what it comes down to is inspiration, and I think you hit on that in a previous comment. If your space inspires you, be it because it's interesting to look at or because it was fun to make, who cares if you made it through following design principles to the letter?

As much as I may talk about design principles, my overarching belief is that design is what makes you happy. A lot of designers might disagree with me, but you're right -- at a certain point, it's time to put down the books. We can use design guideposts to whatever degree allows us to still have fun with it, and ignoring them completely is always an option. Because really, if it ain't fun, what's the point?

And now I'm done taking over your comments.

Brent said...

Those are nice pictures - some of the more engaging that I can remember.

I also think that you ought to rant more often. What makes that garden interesting to me is the constant questions that arise in my mind: What's behind the bush, What's around the corner of the path, Why is the glass ball under the rusty table, etc. These questions would be much fewer in a groomed and regimented (some would say beautiful) garden.

ryan said...

I'm hear what you're saying. I've been posting about the Ruth Bancroft Garden which I found less impressive and 'well-designed' than I had expected, but at the same time it was also much more funky and interesting than I had envisioned, not really so beautiful, but very fascinating. I find myself wanting to follow the garden over the years, to see what happens to it as the professionals take over, see if it maintains its funkiness and so forth.

chuck b. said...

Professionals are taking over the RBG? Nooo...!

/concern/

ryan said...

Well meaning professionals, I think. I didn't mean to make that sound so dire. The Ruth Bancroft era is definitely ending, though, so it'll be interesting to see how the garden evolves. She talks in the oral history of the garden about pushing back against some of the members of the management committee.

Annie Hayes said...

My home garden features my kid's forgotten arrows, ninja throwing stars and a 6' rubber punching bag guy named Bob. Does that count ?