Gardening with Mystery

hidden-garden-serpent-may-2010

Garden Rant is one of the best (if most erratically-scheduled) garden blogs. Today’s post is especially thought-provoking. Here’s a sample:

Here’s one of my beefs with lawns: where is the mystery? We live within this awe-inspiring natural world, teeming with diverse creatures and plants. We have a built-in fascination for other living things. Why would we construct our daily environments in such a way that we avoid being fascinated by them?

Instead, why not kindle this fascination in our everyday, ordinary experience? Research shows how important the experience of natural landscapes is for children’s healthy brain, body, and emotional development. Wouldn’t our adult lives be richer from these experiences as well?

As I gaze across a vast, unbroken sea of lawn, it practically shouts out a need to rein in wild nature’s unpredictability and mystery. Why would we want to do this?

Perhaps we are acting instinctively to create open spaces that give us an uninterrupted view, because that feels safer. But does it really? The groundbreaking work of architect Christopher Alexander, among others, shows we are more likely to feel safest with foliage at our backs, standing at the edge of a clearing (or, indoors, in a doorway or alcove surveying the room). That would mean we need, somewhere on our property, foliage substantial enough to provide us with shelter.

For many of us, especially those not used to spending time in wild places, too much “nature” in a place can prompt fears of getting lost, of encountering snakes or mountain lions, of being unsafe or uncomfortable. During the course of giving my talks about lawn alternatives, I’ve spoken with many a person who is reluctant to walk in ankle-deep turfgrass, much less ducking inside a thicket of head-high shrubs.

Avoiding any wildness does restrict our chances of contact with these perceived dangers. But in accepting denuded landscapes, shorn carpets stripped of life and diversity, what are we giving up? What potential experiences are we trading for our certain safety?

We are not only trading the satisfactions of exploring and observing other forms of life, but also the truly awe-inspiring experiences that nature can offer: of feeling tiny and inconsequential in the face of its grandeur and of feeling a splendid sense of belonging as part of its expansiveness.

I say this is an extremely poor trade.

When we explore a natural landscape, we get the satisfaction of solving small-m mysteries, such as “hmmm, I wonder what’s behind that hedge?” But that is just the beginning of our fascination. Spending time in such a landscape, opening ourselves to its surprises and unpredictability, we start to form connections with that place and its flora and fauna. We begin to learn their quirks and characters, and in knowing them, to see ourselves in relation to them. This fosters a sense of belonging, a certain possessiveness. [There’s a quote in Le Petit Prince about this.]

Now we are talking about big-m Mysteries, as in arcane knowledge of how the world works—including some knowledge about how we ourselves (being part of nature) work. This knowledge cannot necessarily come from scientific study, but from personal experiences that prompt a more emotional/spiritual understanding of the world’s patterns and lessons and our place in it.

One of the lessons that I’ve learned from Landscape Guy is to garden with an eye towards making the person experiencing the garden move forward, getting them to explore behind a corner, or along a curve, or behind a veil of fig branches. There has to be a place where you want to go and sit or stand and see the garden from that vantage point, which will be different from all the other vantage points.

And, in the end, the study of magic’s like that, too, isn’t it? What’s best is what draws us in, gets us to experience things that we wouldn’t have known were there if we hadn’t gone barefoot in the long grass, introduces us to the big-M Mystery of ourselves.

May it be so for you.

Picture found here.

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One response to “Gardening with Mystery

  1. I agree with the poster, I have a very tiny patch of grass around some lawn furniture. Since I have no sheep to graze…I need no more!

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