Sending a Memorial Day message

Landscaping in Alaska

Posted: Wednesday, May 24, 2000

Memorial Day opens a whole season of life, remembrance and sensation. The season moves from emergence into growth as leaves expand, grass greens up and bulb flowers explode into color. Trees are smokily obscuring vistas with gradually thickening veils of green. We say goodbye to our view of the lake until October when the leaves drift away again.

Snowy levels ascend, routes long-covered become available and the high country beckons. Spring is a torrent of meltwater filling canyons, and creeks and mud are everywhere as the land gives up its frozen stability.

Devils club leaves unfurl, sails catching the yearly tradewinds that bear us as cargo into the months of summer. Fiddleheads and goldenthreads transform the forest floor, barely visible now as salmonberries bloom and new dogwood leaves cover the ground. Creeping blueberries rise from the moss, nagoon begins to fill in spaces at the base of wild grasses and bustling new life busily fills all available spaces.

More managed landscapes are roaring into bloom as our carefully collected and arranged species tune up for this concert of color, shape and texture that we call gardens. The earliest overture is passing and the audience is passionately involved with developing themes of sequence, space, color coordination and aroma. Shovels and spading forks are our batons, garden plans our scores, and compost and manure feed the rising waterfall of our compositions.

New players are introduced into traditional songs, instruments augmented by division and gift, layers of texture are filled by elements discovered in a neighbor's yard or suggested by another garden composer.

Shady, moist, hard-to-fill places become deep resonant themes as giant-leafed rodgersias become available, the trill of Lily of the Valley floats into a space under a spruce that has resisted the planting of anything up to now, and soggy boggy spots fill with the multicolored giant snapdragons of Mimulus.

Gardening and landscaping are voices we use to communicate an internal awareness to others with similar senses. The language can be learned or taught, new techniques and training develop our skills, and exposure to the work of others opens new routes to the expression of our feelings, but the inner sensations we utilize are inherent.

We are born related to all creation, we move and live and die in the midst of all our vast family. All life moves as one in the continuous cycle and our part in that all-embracing society is related to and influenced by every other part.

Memorial Day brings us to a formalized recognition point in the yearly progression of days. Graves, old homes, and places of love and experience rise larger in our consciousnesses. We collectively celebrate our link with others who have passed on. Sacrifice for others, the deepest thread of our social contract, is recognized during this season of renewal. As a nation we go to cemeteries, participate in memorial ceremonies and revisit our departed family members. As members of the living Earth, we renew our associations with all life.

Planting memorial trees or creating flowering places in the name of our relatives is a tradition older than our language. Races and societies long passed from earthly existence planted groves, and even earlier ones deified existing trees and places of sacred sensation. The ability of plant communities to pass through the ages gave humans the opportunity to transport emotions and affections in both directions along the temporal flow. We plant in memory of our departed, and for the enjoyment and edification of those yet unborn.

Views seen and appreciated by Persian princes were framed and exalted by marble rimmed pools lined by cedars and cypresses. Forests have dried and vistas changed, but these memorial edifices still place us at the same moment as when the gardens creators saw them.

Cosmic symmetry invoked by Chinese garden creators in carefully shaped hills and pools of palace enclosures repeated the imperial demands of a ruling elite. Carefully arranged plants and rocks invoked tradition, permanence and satisfaction with one's inherited place in the social arrangement.

Royalty has vanished, new social mores rule the land, but those ancient gardens still carry the message. We see, feel and smell the cosmological traditions of a time long gone.

Stonehenge, monastic enclosures, Italian renaissance palace gardens and the Nazca Plateau images are messages. Some we can read, others are clouded by the passage of thousands of years. We can clearly tell that purposeful communication was sent into the future.

We too send images and information onwards with every tree we plant and each flower we place. Our message may be all we leave.

David Lendrum is a master gardener and, along with Margaret Tharp, owns Landscape Alaska. Any responses or questions can be sent to www.landscapealaska.com.



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