My Flowers grow up in several Parts of the Garden in the greatest Luxuriancy and Profusion. I am so far from being fond of any particular one, by reason of its Rarity, that if I meet with any one in a Field which pleases me, I give it a Place in my Garden. By this Means, when a Stranger walks with me, he is surprized to see several large Spots of Ground covered with ten thousand different Colours, and has often singled out Flowers that he might have met with under a common Hedge, in a Field, or in a Meadow, as some of the greatest Beauties of the Place.
I love to see every thing in its Perfection, and am more pleased to survey my Rows of Coleworts and Cabbages, with a thousand nameless Pot-herbs, springing up in their full Fragrancy and Verdure, than to see the tender Plants of Foreign Countries kept alive by artificial Heats, or withering in an Air and Soil that are not adapted to them.
Good heavens! When I consider the fate of botanists then I truly doubt whether their obsession with plants is normal or insane.
It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.
It is the custom to despise magenta. It is hustled out of our gardens and out of our consciousness and no one has eyes to see the imperial scarf of magenta Phlox that stoops to bind the dusty roadside, or the riot of tender colour in the neglected cottage dooryard where Petunias have sown and resown themselves and flutter about the gray and rotting porch and squeeze through the gray and rotting palings of the fence in exquisite harmony with the weathered wood.
I must have seen thousands of herbaceous borders and I know I have planned and planted hundreds, though not always with pleasure. A border is often too narrow for one to plant it in depth; and herbaceous plants should have breadth of treatment since they are basically meadow flowers which should by their arrangement recall their native haunts. Then, in the best case, where you may have a fifteen or twenty-foot-wide border, this extensive and brightly flowered hay (for that is what many herbaceous plants quite simply are) has neither body nor character enough to make broad planting look other than flimsy.
We should keep asking ourselves, when we are tempted by color and display and show, whether it is beautiful as well. The world should not be a nice drab universal gray. But nothing is gained by painting sidewalks orange, either.
Gardening is not some sort of game by which one proves his superiority over others, nor is it a marketplace for the display of elegant things that others cannot afford. It is, on the contrary, a growing work of creation, endless in its changing elements. It is not a monument or an achievement, but a sort of traveling, a kind of pilgrimage you might say, often a bit grubby and sweaty though true pilgrims do not mind that. A garden is not a picture, but a language, which is of course the major art of life.
. . . so often people come back from England and babble on about gardens there and say what a pity we cannot grow the things they do. We can, of course, grow virtually everything they do and a vast deal more, but our gardens will never look very good if we insist that every plant in it have a flower the size of a melon, the color of a hallucinated upset of the head, and a perpetuity of bloom to rival death and taxes.
Whatever the reasons (and I don’t think anyone knows or has studied why people respond to colors as they do . . .) I love blue more than any other color. I am inordinately attracted to any blue substance: to minerals like turquoise and lapis lazuli, to sapphires and aquamarines; to cobalt skies and blue-black seas; Moslem tiles — and to a blue flower whether or not it has any other merit.
Looking at my dahlias one summer day, a friend whose taste runs to the small and impeccable said sadly, ‘You do like big, conspicuous flowers, don’t you?’ She meant vulgar, and I am used to that. It hasn’t escaped me that mine is the only Wasp garden in town to contain dahlias, and not the discreet little singles either. Some are as blowzy as half-dressed Renoir girls; others are spiky sea-creatures, water-lilies, or the spirals in a crystal paperweight. . . .
Blossom on trees, like froth on a pint of Guinness, is part of the product—not unimportant, but not what it was bought for. No amount of froth makes a bad pint good, and spectacular blossom for two or three weeks on a large, obtrusive plant is a poor reward for a minor contribution during the rest of the year.
Perfection is not required and certainly need not be expected in any field of gardening. Often when visiting famous gardens I have been urged to admire the placement of some mountain ash or yew and invited to marvel at the foresight of the planter some two hundred years ago. The truth is, I am delighted the great tree is in just the right place, but foresight my eye.
Simplicity, as I suppose you are sick to death of hearing, is the secret of everything in gardens; and my heart is with every city gardener who says well, yes, but one more redwood surely? Simplicity is all very well when you have fourteen acres or even a half-acre, even a quarter. It is torture when you have forty by twenty-five feet, or even forty by a hundred and twenty feet.
There are people who have seen bindweed at six o’clock on a soft August morning, decked with its small white morning-glory blossoms and swelling green seedpods, and who think it beautiful. Of course it is beautiful. So are coral snakes and cancer cells under a microscope. I don’t see what beauty has to do with it. Country people rightly called bindweed ‘devil’s guts,’ and never mind the beauty.
Memory is a gardener’s real palette; memory as it summons up the past, memory as it shapes the present, memory as it dictates the future.
"A garden, no matter how good it is, must never completely satisfy. The world as we know it, after all, began in a very good garden . . . but after a while the owner and the occupants wanted more.
May is half-foliage month, part architecture, part skin, the armature of all woody matter still visible under its immature coating of adolescent greens. Leaves vie with flowers—they are as fresh and as multicolored. Out of bud, bulb, and root they come in predominant reds and oranges opening in an imprecision of color adjustments swinging through all shades of fuzz, aureate like the moon’s ring before rain, which is a color we cannot name. May expires in the eye quickly. No sooner is something visible than it is gone, either withered or worked into other energies.
Privacy, protection, peace, spiritual pleasure, emotional joy, kinship with the earth and the songbirds and even the low, wet worm. A drawing-up from the earth and a making of green life in an ancient, alchemical gesture. On the side of nature, not against it. The desire to share it with all who come looking now and later, we hope, when we are all earth again.
Gardening is not just a hobby; it’s the main way we honor Planet Earth.