January 2, 2009

Why Garden?

When will there be good news? In Michigan especially and in the whole of our beleaguered country, such hard times and daily bad, sad tidings beset us, it is difficult to find any arena of our socio-political-ecological world where good news and promise hold sway. Periods of hard times and turbulent change have often, in the past, spurred a focus on embracing the outdoors and nature. The Arts and Crafts Movement plant- and animal-based designs followed the Industrial Revolution, the national park system began in response to the Great Depression, big and bold preserved, cultivated city landscapes like Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and Central Park in Manhattan were born to counterpose the early 20th Century boom in urban building.

The private gardener is similarly motivated. Planting a garden lets us get personally, intimately, actively engaged in opposing the degradation and destruction of nature. Instead of plundering, paving and killing the earth, gardening tills the earth, opens and feeds the soil, reinvigorates growth and productivity. It nurtures and provisions the natural world, rather than endangering it. In the garden we can give back to the earth instead of taking away from it. We sow toward a tomorrow that will be more plentiful rather than more impoverished.

To work and care for a garden brings the gardener into direct touch with and awareness of nature, the weather, the seasons. It transports us out of the busy, distressing, artificial milieus of work, commerce and politics, and into a clean, tranquil, straightforward engagement with the sun and the rain, seeds and soil beneath our hands. A garden can carry us back to long, innocent hours of childhood spent contemplating the spread of tree branches against the sky, the shape and portent of clouds, the marvel of scent and color in a flower bed, the play of squirrels on a green, the earnest industry of birds creating a nest, one strand at a time.

A storybook world that perhaps never existed in actual childhood can be fashioned in a garden. Rose-covered arbors, hollyhocks and hummingbirds flocking a wall, swings and benches to daydream upon, herbs to perfume the air, posies to sniff and gather, all the seductive features of fairy tales and imagined wild kingdoms can be made to come true.

In the garden the individual can exercise control over what will be. There are no bosses giving orders, there's no government deciding how money and resources will be spent, no corporations strip-mining and clearcutting, no tankers spilling oil, no gunfire and bombs wreaking havoc. Only the gardener and nature, in consort, are in charge of including or disposing, pursuing a course or changing it, what is allowed and what prohibited, the means and ends that guide action. Here is a venue where the single person can pursue whatever beliefs and dreams are chosen, and never have to bend or cower to others.

A garden grants every person, equally, the ability to engender beauty. No innate talent is necessary to forge a work of art from a plot of ground, anyone willing to employ elbow grease can be an artist in the garden. An empty canvas of topsoil can be made radiant with poems of flowers and arias of leafy branches. With a garden, anyone can increase the extant loveliness upon the earth.

Gardening strengthens the body, repaying in physical health every iota of effort put into it. It challenges the mind, stimulates learning, and imparts new founts knowledge. It teases out worry and sadness, hopelessness and defeat from the spirit, letting satisfaction and happiness mount as holes are dug, weeds pulled, leaves raked. The garden turns attention from the self to the care and tending of the great outdoors.

Gardens bring good news. This is why we garden, because even when hailstorms shower damage on the apple tree or unkind insects make a meal of the roses, the garden beckons with its bewitching glamor and serene crannies, it galvanizes the gardener with its ongoing need for attention and application. The garden brings good news by unfailingly rewarding honest, simple endeavor with a better world outside our doors.

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