Sunday, January 27, 2008


Inch for inch, Japanese dry gardens pack a lot of power. But I'm glad that it's contained to a small courtyard because (inch for inch) it's not the greatest space for biodiversity or productivity.

And if it sprawled out, it would lose its magic and become a golf course.

I like a healthy balance of modernism and postmodernism. I like beauty and the sublime, but there is more to life than aesthetics. There are other things to express, and there are means for expression other than color, form and texture. I don't have to limit myself to expressing one thing either (as cool as that focus is in the dry garden).

Here are some of the things I’m trying to express in Bayside:

1. The value and coolness of local biodiversity. Leave a brush pile for the shrews. Encourage the Scrophularia. Call it performance art.

2. The dark forest myth. (It’s not clear why exactly, but this really resonates with me. The surrounding landscape and those fantasy novels I read as a kid are probably responsible.) This, at least in part, is leaving the creepy side of nature intact and the idea of artifacts.

3. Stewardship. Our need of the land, and the land’s need for us. I became a gardener a few years ago to make everything in Bayside look “natural.” I now like the idea of coppices, crops, and compost piles within the wilder landscape. I am especially drawn to traditional land management techniques like burning and coppicing. Sometimes I use a stick to dig my planting holes, no joke. This is partly responsible.

What I’m really trying to express is my idea of paradise. For me, paradise is not just “pretty.” It’s ferociously beautiful, diverse and productive. And I get to live in it.


Ellen said...

Right on. So often I go on a garden tour where my fellow garden writers oh and ah about the perfectly groomed beds and the edging of the lawns and I am entirely unmoved. I like mystery and wildness in nature (and in the garden) to generate a visceral response.

I didn't visit any dry gardens when I was in Japan, but I did visit a wonderful moss garden in Kyoto (you apply in advance). But what impressed me even more than the formal gardens were the small, individual expressions of horticulture tucked into nooks and crannies and popping up on street corners without fanfare but with great appreciation.

kate said...

This was an interesting blogpost - I like the idea of dark, dishevelled and mysterious places in the garden. I am definitely not into manicured gardens - it's more fun to challenge peoples' ideas of what a garden on an urban plot should look like.

Gardener of La Mancha said...

Kate, I'm gardening in a fairly rural area where I'm free to experiment without complaint. You can see through the pictures of my garden in this blog, that I'm not afraid of unkempt corners. It's definetly a work just getting started.

I really admire the gardeners in town who are active in their gardens and who are willing to experiment.