Thursday, May 26, 2005

on the raft

This entry was orginally posted November 8, 2004 in the IT Kitchen, the interesting and innovative group blog seminar organized by Shelley at Burningbird. Think of this post as summer re-runs.


A new garden blogger, in the wave of the past year or so, is probably not a techie, the brave folk who made up blogging for the rest of us. Probably many of the newer bloggers are not techies. If it weren’t easy to have one’s own blog, many of us would not be writing in them. Our passions are not about what’s under the hood—they are in other things and places and activities.

For many of us, our stumbling upon blogs is like a person discovering a clearing alongside a river bank, and upon watching others on rafts float by, chatting to each other, ignoring others, some even shouting oddities out into the empty air, the person watching decides that it might be fun to join the flotilla of rafters.

So the new blogger gathers the small items necessary to put the float onto the river, and he or she takes off, slowing shooting out into the stream, bringing along good intentions and half-thought ideas, some obsessions, and a world view framed by the view of the river as seen from that clearing where the blogger first encountered it.

But floating down the river, even ever so slowly, takes the person away from the banks, away from the framed view of the clearing, past new scenery.


To write about gardening is to float on a circular river, like the gentle, organized loops found in some water parks. There are four seasons, although this is a mere technicality in some parts of the world, and for gardeners in those places. Our work in our gardens is organized by those seasons.

Ours is a circular calling, with the gardener destined to relive over and over the seasons, comparing one spring to another, regretting not enjoying the unusually mild summer or the especially wet one years ago, and always looking mightily for the sameness of sun, soil and moisture in a place year after year.

With whatever peasant blood flows within us, the descendants of the Lord’s or Lady’s garden help, we who garden are both cheerful and grumpy, looking for the moment at each plant’s leaf, testing the moisture in the soil, getting lost in the cool evening shade and the quiet lostness of a time spent digging around in the dirt, looking, looking, and then not looking, just dreaming about nothing in particular.


Gardening is not like floating on a raft. It is not a New Age meditation. The metaphors get stretched. No.

It is about a place, about the sun (or lack of it), about soil, about moisture, about temperatures, about colors and textures, about living plants, placed in pre-selected or whimsical ways, in making an artificial planting look either very natural or very ordered and formal. It is about being a small god, editing and shaping nature, creating a view, or a space, compelling us to look and enter into it.

Gardening is the child-like need to go someplace and daydream, except for the gardener, the daydreaming becomes tied to whether more plants could be planted, or old ones removed or divided.

Our Edens are less the place of perfection, and instead are places of need for more: more weeding or watering, more attention to bugs, or soil amendments. Do more, struggle more.


Gardening is highly moralistic, in that it rewards simple acts of good works and punishes when one misses the mark, and yet it is also about moments of tremendous grace and forgiveness. Rules help, rules can be pushed a bit. One’s failings and obessions become obvious out in the garden.

There is sometimes a great generousity among gardeners, sharing little bits of secrets (like burying the tomato plant by up to 2/3rds so that its root system will be large and expansive) and especially plants (can you use another sage plant, or some catmint?).

E.B. White, in his introduction of his wife’s collected New Yorker essays on gardening, described Katharine White in old age setting herself up each fall out in the garden with a planting chart in hand, directing a helper to plant out another round of bulbs for the spring. He said she was plotting the Resurection.


The garden blogger is using language to hunt down the passions that makes him or her go dig around in the dirt. We share secrets. We share delights and surprises. We talk about plants, some casually and other with a precise bontanical correctness. I would suspect that outside of our little circles, we are as boring as hell to non-gardeners. The more gifted among us use pictures to capture some of what we do. Pictures are best used in cold months, I think, to remind us of what we are cut off from, the dirt, our plants, the light of the day.


Laurie said...

A very enjoyable meditation on gardening and blogging. Thanks for the "rerun".

Don said...

Thanks for your kind comment.