Saturday, May 31, 2008

GT: Random Rhetoric

This post is inspired by Wende's wistful wishing for a book on the rhetoric of garden design. I've been pouring through the dozen gardening books I got from the library today. One which caught my attention for some actual reading is The Rusty Rake Gardener by Cathy and David Cummins. In it they discuss the differences between rural gardens, city gardens and suburban gardens--and their distinctions are easily re-cast into musings on rhetoric (in the broad sense of the term, obviously).

A successful rural or country garden, such as Lorijo inhabits, "usually becomes more integrated with its surroundings than a small city garden" (or, as in Wende's case, a balcony). Boundaries in the country garden will be rambling fences, wood lots, mature trees, ditches and the like. Shape is determined by the gardener. The successful country garden will meet the needs of the surrounding plants and wildlife as well as those of the gardener. These will be its companions in conversation. Will it play "nice" with the forest creatures or turn them away? Will it fight with rigid borders or get along with the rural landscape with natural plantings and "inevitable" looking groupings? Olmstead (who designed both Central Park and Mount Royal in Montreal) was a master at creating the "wild" landscape. In fact, things are so wild on Mont Royal that I wonder if they have, indeed, "let the place go."

Urban gardens, on the other hand, are defined by exterior walls and inflexible fences or, shall we add, balcony railings. Thus, they are extensions of the home: open-air parlours, as the Cummins's put it. The conversation, therefore, is with the interior.

A suburban garden, like mine, writes these authors, begs for a decision: "Will your garden extend the country to your back door or be an annex to your house?" To whom will the suburban garden talk?

I don't know. I do love the vernacular of this design. It comes from another tome called The Landscape Make-over Book by Sara Jane von Trapp. This is a simple historical plan for the front yard of a Colonial. (It is well worth enlarging):

(Unfortunately, there is no credit given for the sketch in the book. Perhaps it is by the author?)

It speaks to me because of the juxtaposition of its formal layout and the practical, useful plantings. To me, it is the ultimate expression of conquering nature. It has a short conversation both with the parterres of the upper classes and the kitchen garden of the lower while remaining completely unique with its emphasis on herbs and all things which can be dried to service the colonial pastime of creating sachets and potpourries.

So, here's another question to ponder, if it works for you: What sort of language do you want your garden to speak? To whom shall it speak? The Living room? The deer? Or could it speak to the past? Your sense of aesthetic? Your morning coffee?

For me, I want my garden to have a conversation with my children, strangely enough. I want it to be a place for them to learn in and a place for them to explore. I have no idea what that means in terms of design. It could mean secret passageways and hiding spots. It could mean plants which attract birds and butterflies. It could mean a little plot for each child to grow things. It could mean planting vegetables to cultivate and preserve. It could even mean, gasp, planting things for drying to be made into sachets and potpourries for gifts.


zooza said...

That Colonial garden plan is very interesting. Also interesting is the fact that it interests you. There was a time when I was an archaeologist and was seriously considering moving into historic garden reconstruction (but instead took a left turn for museums). It is a truly fascinating and absorbing subject. Having at least a small area of your garden as an historic space could be wonderful for homeschooling - laying out a little knot garden, growing old plants, learning what their uses were, dyeing with them, eating them... Oooh. Can I come and play?

drwende said...

Oh, fascinating post with much food for thought! Thank you for the prod of good ideas.

Becca said...

Oh I love that garden plan! I'll have to see if my library has that book or not!

I'd love to learn more about historical gardening--that would be fun!

Anne (in Reno) said...

Oh, the gardens I used to work in had a knot garden, and they also had a tiny miniature bonsai-esque knot garden that was about 2 ft. square. I would think you could totally do something like that in the name of education.

That said, I think my suburban backyard needs to speak to more small animals. We saw a bunny once and Matt is convinced it will be back to eat my tomatoes, but I will cross that bridge when I come to it. What I got excited about was the hummingbirds coming to my honeysuckle (it's in a bad spot, poorly thought out, but finally thriving after two years). I want to be a more bird and bee friendly area... this requires my own post, I will refrain from cluttering your comments too much.

Alana in Canada said...

Horray for bees and butterflies. Looking forward to your post--bu never ever worry about cluttering up comments!

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