Learning how to take pride of place

Posted: Wednesday, June 07, 2000

The care and attention we devote to our homes and yards are part of the cultural network that creates our society. We speak several languages, have differing religious and historical holidays, and in our most relaxed modes enjoy widely divergent musical types. We do, however, understand each other's languages, have our own religious and historical holidays, and enjoy our own music.

We mow our lawns, plant our flowers and have a couple of favorite trees. Our lawns, flowers and ornamental plants are indicators of our pride of place, of our acceptance and enjoyment of our social relationships and cultural integration. We garden and plant and care for our landscape as expressions of our personal involvement in the world.

Choosing to care for your yard, or have a potted plant on your windowsill, or placing fresh flowers on the table are affirmations of life, of joy and of personal responsibility. Shoulder to shoulder with millions of other people all around the world, gardeners and lovers of the plant world are expressing their deep, rich, complex feelings for the world around them. Creating and enriching environments is indicative of one's sense of engagement with the rest of the world.

Arranging stones to form attractive borders to some personal space, noticing and protecting a particular wildflower, or replanting and stabilizing an eroding streambank are phrases and conversations we have with all life. Managing a national park, building a waterfall in our backyard, developing Rhododendron hybrids that will carry golden colors into the rainforest are riffs and pieces of songs we hum with the cosmos. These moments of exploration, species to species, and lifeform to all creation are positive, moving, enriching experiences that glue us as individuals into all the whirling, expanding universe.

The temptation to extol our own chosen method of expression is great. Recognizing the equally valid method of another may be hard, but the kinship gained by welcoming another individual into an association is like receiving another chance to live. Orchardists meet orchidsts, bonsai is understood by Hosta and thousand-year-old algae frozen in the ice cap is just as lovely as Himalayan Blue Poppies in early July. Choosing to support life, expand horizons and encourage beauty allows our lives to swell far beyond the strictures of immediate need; we can sense the eternal and feel ourselves in it.

Landscaping encourages one's abilities to interact. I see young children sitting in the pile of sand by the edge of the pond at our nursery; they are busily creating places, defining spaces and giving them character. Unhesitatingly they absorb elements into their worlds: rocks, pieces of wood, fallen leaves and spent blossoms are incorporated into these realities. Calling them back to get into the car when the parents are through is always difficult. They are masters of these worlds, waving their hands, and space becomes substance. They are part of these creations; we are part of ours.

Dozens of times each day we interface with people who are creating personal worlds; color, texture, size, aroma, seasonality, endurance, reproductivity, fruitfulness and many more characteristics are weighed and measured as plants are chosen or rocks and fences are placed. The positive sensations flowing from these involved people are indicative of the joy and fun they are all experiencing. They are as thrilled as the children by the pond, creation is running in their veins, they are momentarily eternal.

Abilities are different, preferences vary and the goals of each participant are unique. The common binding filament is one of involvement in the inner workings of the world, of being part of the team that keeps things running. Planting trees is hard work, discovering unforeseen problems is jarring, but the sense of participatory engagement wins through every time. People love to make gardens, they open parts of themselves to the air that they didn't even know were there, and it grows within them.

Stepping briskly off on a hike, slipping the boat into the water, sharpening the carving knife, or smoothly sliding the shovel into the earth for the first spadeful turned are very enjoyable sensations, ones to be treasured and called back for reuse during seasons of inactivity. Memories of times we were fully alive are currency that can be spent without diminishing our hoards. Depositing coin daily raises our balance and provides investment opportunity unmatched in world markets. Waves of prosperity are permanently fixed into our lives when we plant or build or create.

Put the music on, take up your tool, be part of the universe, greet all the billions of relatives you have been missing for the last few centuries, have a wonderful life.

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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