Thursday, January 21, 2010

Slow Gardening: Stories Outlive Storytellers

It may seem an odd season to address gardening, but the seed catalogs arrived with the new year, and by now they have been thumbed, dog-eared, and hauled into the bathroom as an alternative to The Onion. Come February, I like to cut them up and use them in Valentines.

I am not a good gardener. At least not by my standards. In order to be a good gardener, I would need to be consistent. I'm not. A good gardener compensates for the dissipations of soil and the vagaries of weather. I notice such things but provide no remedy. A good gardener exhibits a certain ruthlessness for the sake of the greater good. Nature, with her profligate notions, may bundle beet seeds together in a hard little wad, but the practical gardener thins them out and is so rewarded with red roots fat as a fist or a heart. Some of my beets are thin as a thread.

I am not a good gardener, but I aspire to be a slow gardener. I want my garden to outlive me.

Felder Rushing, has taught me many things in this regard, even though he lives in the south and I live in Zone 3. He helped me realize I could have a bottle tree. He helped me make sense of my inclination to let things go to seed. Planting a strain of Red Orach that still grows wild around the foundation of collapsed homesteads is an investment in long future. Letting a plant sow itself year after year is making good on a promise.

Another of my gardening mentors is Linnaeus, who has been dead 232 years. His gardens live still. I have had the pleasure of visiting this one several times. Linaeus is a sort of hero in regard to indexing as well, since he invented a system of identification and catagorizing. So, although he made some terrible mistakes--including refusing to educate his daughters--I consider his accomplishments and his garden worthy of respect.

Finally, I am inspired by The Hemulen Who Loved Silence* who had the grace to accept every sort of gift that didn't make noise. He accepted mirror-glass splinters and an alligator on a string and the rose brush, which was all that remained of his grandmother's house. Of these things he built a Park of Silence. And when he was finished, he permitted children and laughter to come into the garden--and if it wasn't quite so silent as he first desired, it was wonderful. Wonderful.

(*The Hemulen appears in Tove Jansson's Tales From Moominvalley. It's an excellent book that can help you learn how not to be invisible, among other useful skills. )
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