Saturday, August 27, 2016

Space, Schmace!

There are some who believe that the design of a garden takes place in the space between the plants.  And then there are those of us who say “space, schmace!” – pack ‘em in and let them fight for the right to blossom.  And then, only when absolutely necessary, cull out the obviously extraneous ones – laissez-faire horticulture with minimal government oversight.
 For years, when I was being honest with myself, I thought that my adherence to this approach was due to either laziness, a complete lack of imagination, or a misguided notion of the ability of nature to police itself – rather than to a painstakingly thought out, carefully nuanced, socio-floriculture philosophy.  But now I realize that I actually am practicing a highfalutin, well respected and ancient form of landscape artistry.

 I am a sculptor of gardens.

Now, I have heard the following apocryphal story two different ways – both of which follow. 

The first version concerns the brilliant Renaissance artist Michelangelo, who is asked about the difficulties that encountered in sculpting his masterpiece depicting the Biblical hero and slayer of Goliath.

He replies, “It is easy. You just chip away the stone that doesn’t look like David.”

A similar anecdote concerns an unnamed artist and his statue of a pachyderm.  His response is, “Get the biggest granite block you can find and just remove everything that doesn’t look like an elephant.”

And I immediately realized, “That’s exactly what I’ve been doing in my yard for the past thirty years” – except that instead of the biggest granite block I have been chipping away at the chockablock array of flowers that I have allowed to live in our garden spaces, and that while both “Mikey A” and that unknown sculptor probably had a pretty good idea in their minds of what their finished product would look like, I usually don’t.

 So wandering around our yard after Mars and I returned from our annual Penn State University Golf Camp junket where during our down time we visited the university’s magnificent Arboretum, I decided that a couple of our perennial beds were way too over crowded – and became inspired to lop off all of those flowers that were preventing the patch from actually being a garden.

But where to start?  With Michelangelo’s famous statue obviously weighing heavily on my subconscious I quickly decided to remove two of the three teasel plants that had staked claim to a chunk of space in the midst of our Gooseneck Loosestrife, Asters, Sedum, Chives, and Maximilian Sunflowers.  This left one tall prickly plant with spiny purple flower-heads sticking up as the main feature in that part of the plot – like the most prominent (and most secretly photographed) frontal feature on the nude statue of David.  I was getting quite excited – by the work ahead of me.  The rest was going to be easy.

Following my basic rule of “no interspecies intermingling” I painstakingly (sort of) uprooted the stalks of any leaves that looked different than those that surrounded them.  As well as eliminate any plant too weak to stand upright under its own power.  Then a heavy rain came and helped the project by breaking the stems of others.

After two days of labor my trash pail became filled and the work of art was put on hold pending our weekly visit from Paine’s Rubbish Removal.

But the good part is that, as seen from the air from our backyard drone, even in its incomplete state the resulting pattern of pushy perennials looks somewhat like a six-cubits-and-a-span-tall, giant Philistine warrior lying prostrate in the weeds, with a large bump on his forehead where the divinely guided slingshot stone brought him down.  And, in my future work, if I feel the area still looks too crowded, I can always add a little more Biblical realism by lopping off his head just as David did, and using it to begin yet another garden.  The victorious Israelites did something similar by displaying the decapitated trophy more or less as a lawn ornament – sort of an Old Testament Yard Gnome.

This is so much more fun than actually knowing what you are doing.


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