Memorial Day, a wonderful time to plant

Posted: Wednesday, May 25, 2005

David Lendrum

Landscaping in Alaska

Most of the years we have been in Juneau, the spring has been coming to life as the kids exited school. This year Memorial Day arrives in the midst of summer. The leaves have long been out, flowering trees are at their height of bloom, rhododendrons are showing their fabulous colors all over town and the creek by my house is dry as dust. Devils club leaves are spread, sails catching the yearly trade winds that bear us as cargo into the months of summer.

It is the season of Juneau Jazz and Classics, and the music fills every auditorium, and drifts from the decks of pleasure boats filled with audiences of local enthusiasts, before they go home to another concert. The planted landscapes are roaring into bloom as our carefully collected and arranged species tune up for this arrangement of color, shape and texture that we call the garden.

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- leaved rodgersias or ligularias arrive. The sensuous 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 giant eupatorium, promising late summer thrills of fluffy pink blooms.

Gardening and landscaping are voices we use to communicate a message to others with similar senses. The language can be learned or taught - most of us learned it at home with our parents - but new techniques and training can develop our skills. 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 conciousnesses. 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 citizens of our nation, we solemnly accept the sacrifices made for our protection. 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 departed 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 gives 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 by Persian princes were framed and exalted by marble-rimmed pools lined with cedars and cypresses. Those 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 designers in the carefully shaped hills and pools of palace enclosures repeated the imperial demands of the ruling elite. Carefully arranged plants and rocks invoked tradition, permanence and satisfaction with one's inherited place in the social arrangement. That 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. But we can clearly tell purposeful communication was sent into the future.

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

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