If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a garden...
Latley I've been especially fortunate to have visits from several loved ones, including close friends and family. In particular, a joyful visit from my cousin who lives in Italy, whom I’ve seen very little in my life. It’s hard to say how I felt when she was here, other than to say things were just right. We were lucky to be surrounded by lots of family in a festive reunion. It was memorable, and I think it will be mostly memorable for me in the feeling of being completely present--wide-eyed--not wanting to miss a moment. We had a magical walk with my oldest neice and my shaggy little dog through some Redwoods and Douglas Fir. The little and big purturbances that often get to me didn’t seem to matter so much, and they don’t inhabit my memory of the those days.
By a person's third decade, she's likely built and maintainted many habits, quirks, and tendencies specifically garnered to check out, to put up a small barrier between herself and the brightness of every moment that passes. I’m not sure why we do this, because it can muddy even the good moment--perhaps these especially. I don’t think I’m alone in this… even for those of us who intently seek some degree of mindfulness. But during that weekend, those cataracts of spirit didn’t obscure much.
We said goodbye after a manic weekend, and later I was walking, reflective—not on anything in particular—just savoring the sweet taste of contentment that I’d enjoyed for a couple of days. I was noticing plants, and walkways, and the details of the surrounding houses. This is nothing new; it’s what I do all the time. But the early autumn sunset was spotlighting showy salvias and penstemon, much like an M.C. announcing their debut on the scene. A breeze picked up, wafting the spicy sweetness of Ceonothus my way, then teasing the dark frilly leaves on a buoyant Agonis. My right brain was clicking, and I was looking all around me, wanting to express the satisfaction I was feeling. I’m pretty sure that if I’d had a round shovel in my hand, I would have started in on all my neighbors’ gardens. I wanted a Fairy Godmother’s wand to make things move and dance--to drape pearls of Bromeliad blooms and glass slippers of Astelia on those gardens, just so...according to my design.
And then a car came barreling down the hill, breaking my grandiose spell. I woke up, and sort of looked around wondering if the neighbor was watching me staring creepily at his Delosperma. I was sheepishly amused by my expansiveness. But it led me to wonder, why in this moment do I want to create gardens so much? Why should that be the effect of a blissful couple of days—how are they related?
It gets back to the question of What is a Garden? Why do we seek them out? How does a garden and all the accompanying work draw so many of us into her charms? I think it’s that when walking that night, I was yearning to create another space—one that was set apart—as a reflection and distillation of the experience that I’d shared. We had a few pictures, but I didn’t want to look at those; I wanted to hold in my heart the way the cathedral light filtered through branches of Redwoods while Sophie chattered on about all the school supplies she needs in first grade. I wanted my own spot where when it’s getting late, a little drift of moisture folds in and perceptibly drops the temperature in a single moment….and a path where the dry smell of woods flutters up when we tromp through them. An alter for memory. A place to return, where we get to step into that moment and away from the hassles and fears outside the garden.
I’ve talked of gardens as being evocative spaces, and of their “made-ness” and mutability being a large part of their allure. During this visit, to some extent years of not knowing one another slipped away, and there was a recognition, a little like happening on some garden ruins that feel eerily and wonderfully familiar. Time, distance, heartache were suspended...not in spite of, but because of years of loss, age, and an ocean. Like in a garden the beauty persisting out of decay, incompletion, imperfection. The delight of a fern creeping out of stones, 10 yards from where its parents were once planted. I want to see hardy geraniums billowing over the edge of a bed, much like the spilling over of emotion during that perfect moment in the Redwoods. I can't really say these things, but I can feel them mimicked by a scandant vine scrambling up through a Prunus mume. The sheer wistful sorrow reflected in the browning of the grasses and the hope wakened in the rustling wind. They remind me of how over the years something unremarkable becomes something sacred...like the old Water Oaks towering over Atlanta. I want to place these as focals, to reinforce their magnitude in my mind. In designing a garden, I get to force the perspective with scale and linear feet, I get to choose how to accentuate the sitelines with hedges and implied lines. And thus like in a garden, we work to hold our treasured moments in focal and direct our internal gaze toward the borrowed view.