A Belated Sunday Opinion: Digging Holes

After having spent what seems like weeks sitting at my drafting table designing and drawing, I am thinking there is a lot to be said for just digging some holes.  Designing takes imagination, concentration, foresight, more mathematics than what you might think-and patience.  It requires a considerable expenditure of a certain kind of energy.  Sometimes it feels like I am straining my eyes, trying to see in the dark.  Or staring at something for so long I can’t see anything anymore.  I squirm, doodle, and daydream.  The whole business is exhausting, though the only thing in motion is my pencil.   

The drawing is usually in two phases.  Idle marks indicating where people might congregate, walk or park help to suggest a scheme.  I go through plastic erasers by the dozen.  I draw straight lines with a scale, as I need always to be conscious of how many feet it is from here to there.  I can tell in a moment whether I have space for lilacs, or just enough for a threesome of espaliered pears.  But what drives the pencil is an imaginary trip up the drive or front walk, through the garden to the back door, out again onto the terrace, back across the front yard, and out.  There are as many possible permutations to the route of this trip as there are hybrid daylilies.  It is like planning a trip to a city you have never visited-except that the city is not there yet.  Decisions get made, for better or for worse.  The drawing takes a more serious turn.  Lines start describing spaces that have volume.  Spaces without purposeful shapes will read on a drawing just like they read in the landscape-like leftovers.  That little piece of leftover land floating between the fence and a tree is better resolved on paper than after the fact. 

A finished drawing is as much about communicating the idea of the design, as a roadmap for an installation. Looking at a landscape design drawn on a piece of paper is a contradiction in terms.  Only the birds and the people in the planes flying overhead will ever see the landscape from this point of view.  Landscapes are sculptures teeming with the byproducts of all kinds of life-trees, flowers and falling leaves, insects, air conditioners, woodchucks, broken branches,skateboards, overgrown yews, trashcans, the neighbors-none of this shows in the drawing on a page.  But for the drawing to work, all of these possibilities and eventualities have to be taken into consideration.  Some serendipity in a garden can be charming and refreshing, but there is an equal chance it might be irritating.  Poorly planned landscapes, faulty horticulture, can openers that don’t work, shoes that are not the right size-irritating.

I understand completely the urge to visit the nursery, buy some plants, place the plants here and there, and dig holes.  There is something satisfying about stomping on the shovel, digging up the dirt, planting and watering a good looking plant.  It involves the expenditure of energy of a different sort-simple, physcial, uncomplicated by thought. Sometimes it is good not to overthink one’s moves.  After all, anything can be moved, provided one comes to one’s senses in time.

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