Really...What's a garden? Inquiries into Mindfulness

I'm certainly not the first, nor the last person to ask and attempt to define what is meant by the term "garden," but I feel like associating on the term, as I have been thinking a lot about a friend who understands a garden like Temple Grandin understands a slaughterhouse.   Second that: I am thinking about being mindful (unfortunately, I'm still in a place where I generally need to think about it and make an effort toward practicing it).  Take it yet further:  I have a sense that a garden is an archetype of sorts--not merely an archetype of a pure oasis or of an Edenic paradise, but rather of a hewn arcadia, that elicits both longing and rest, as the bliss of a garden is fully entwined with its transience, perishablility, and toil.

Bring it back down,, again: what is a garden?
Essentially, a garden is, at its core, a transformative and evocative space.  Not so much the content of what's there, but the response it brings when one is in it.  It is to be experienced, not just viewed.

Intentionality should be present in a garden:

A garden is also made thing and it is made out of a living, changing medium, and made by living, changing creatures.  Although natural processes play a big role, remove the "making" of the garden and there is no garden,  only nature per se.  Even with a naturalistic style, intention--maybe only in the form of selective editing--is in the making.  It's design nirvana when natural rhythms and patterns are so understood that the designer can just caress them with intuition and we're left wondering who did what exactly--we just know we feel at peace in the space.  I was impressed Zenon Schreiber's Arts and Crafts inspired rockwork at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens for this reason.

For me, and I'm sure for others, what gardens and the act of gardening does is ground me in space and time.  Gardens reference season, change, vulnerability, nurture, mystery, imagination...potential.  For this reason, I tend to like a fairly dynamic garden, (unless the design is intentionally strong and stark), and I want a garden that moves in time and reminds me to be. here. now.  So I'm a proponent of four-season interest, but not of a garden full of broad-leaf evergreens.  The latter evokes for me a feeling of stasis, heaviness, evervation, and a sense that I'm in a garden of God's frozen people who were punished into plants.

I'd rather feel energized and restful at once.  In addition to grounding me in space and time, a garden is a place for me to practice acceptance and nurturance--all are at the core of compassion and mindful rest.  The idea that a garden is made and maintained is met with the reality that there are myriad variables at play beyond our comprehension and control.  This is the bug that gardeners get--the thing that keeps us chasing an ideal, loving it, and coming back seeking more.  There is mystery which delights me and puzzles me and I have to accept that I don't know why that Daphne up and died (but I can make guesses) or that the big vision in my mind didn't come to fruition because of the realities of my finite resources--internal and external.  Perhaps tapping into this Garden archetype--even in my own mind if not in an actual garden--is a way for me to tap into the acceptance, compassion, and mindfulness to which I don't come naturally.

And, as a designer I can delight in knowing that as long as there is a commitment to a full-bodied design, a really wide net captures many interpretations of "garden."  The gardens below each have a distinct vernacular.  What they share, however, is that they are evocative, they have a sense of a specific place and time (this is a stretch with the trough--not sure I buy my own argument), and are mutable, temporal spaces, requiring making and maintenance.  That's about as tight as I know to go on my definition--and this from a plant nerd!

P.S.: These are not all credited, as I didn't know to whom to do so--speak up and I will!
Derek Jarmon's stark garden at Prospect Cottage, Dungeness
Some Biergarten in Munich

The Boxwood gardens at Marqueyssac, Normandy--I HAVE to go there one day...

David McMullin's Very Good Plants Farm in  Lithonia, GA (Two shots )

Tapestry of Hedges, Piet Oudolf

Topher Delaney's Installation of Birch and shadow at Cornerstone in Sonoma
Japanese Zen garden of sand and rock
Garden in a tupha trough
Tunnel of Lights, Japan
Tire garden in Port au Prince

David McMullin's "blue room" at his home garden in Atlanta, GA


Popular Posts