Sunday Opinion: Sowing the Seed

The dense fog this morning has me thinking. To my mind, what characterizes gardeners first and foremost is not that they garden, but how they keep on gardening. Fog, storms, wind, poor soil, drought, floods, bugs, disease, failure-no matter; they keep on gardening.  I am thinking about this, as I live in a community, like most other communities in this country, under economic siege.  The heavy wet white fog I drove through at 6 am this morning is as good a description as any of what I see and live with right now; eyes wide open, I couldn’t see a thing.    Without much exception, the people I come in contact with are afraid, or uneasy- unsure about how to navigate.  A fogged-in atmosphere like this touches everything, and everyone. 

I have lived in the greater Detroit area my whole life.  I grew up thinking the most fabulous sculpture imaginable was a well designed automobile. That idea is alive and well; more thousands of people than ever attended the yearly Dream Cruise down Woodward Avenue in August.  A festival honoring the beauty and diversity of the automobile was an idea that took root, and grew.  The serious economic and environmental problems currently affecting Detroit defy description, much less solutions.  I so strongly support the Greening of Detroit, as it seems to me it will take people who have that tenacity that describes gardeners to make Detroit thrive again-even if that involves reinventing its landscape. There needs to be some seeds sown that root, and take hold.

I am in the thick of two substantial projects right now.  One is ready to begin construction;  the other is is midway through the design phase.  Both projects involve interesting and committed clients.  Multiple design issues making lots of noise; this is my idea of a good time.  Designing makes me wake up and see; I cannot decribe that process any better than this. Once I am in the “wake up and see” mode, I see everything differently.  How a vignette could be arranged in a more striking way.  How I might use a material creatively. This is about the imagination, in gear. My imagination in gear over these projects that energize me made me step back and see what it is to be fogged in and not know it.

Some weeks ago I had a front door, and a rear door replaced at the store.  I ordered a door with a window for the front, and a solid door for the back.  When my contractor arrived to install the doors, we explained that the salesperson had ordered both doors with windows, by mistake.  Though the door with a window costs more, he would charge me the same as for the door with no window.  It crossed my mind that for security reasons, a rear door with a window into the garage not visible from the street might not be a good idea.  However, as the door that no longer closed properly was a bigger security issue; I said ok.  At 6:10 this morning I went into the garage-a space some 4000 square feet with no windows.  I am accustomed to going everywhere in the store without turning on the lights; I know the space well enough to confidently navigate in the dark.  Though the light switch next to the back door is a long way from the entrance to the garage, I always got there.  The one exception-a low, heavy and close to immoveable  black iron planter inadvertently got left in the path to the light switch.  I was in a heap on that concrete floor before my brain got the message. I have been very cautious, and tentative ever since, negotiating my way to the light. I remembered this today, seeing the light from the window at the far end of the room.  From the inside, that window provided security to me. Providing security from the inside suddenly seemed like a very important seed that deserved to be planted in, and kept watered.  There’s a chance that something might grow. There’s nothing that breaks up a white fog better than some sunshine.

This all may seem painfully obvious, and hardly worth mentioning.  But routinely I have to tell clients who want their new landscapes to look old and established  that the time this takes cannot be circumvented.   I tell them the crummy spring weather applies equally to everyone-one’s love and devotion to gardening doesn’t get you a pass on the frost sure to come. How fiercely you want cosmos in that dark corner of your garden does not make your chances of success better.  Likewise, the fog of tough times falls on me too-not just other people. 

The clients and projects that engage me help to burn off the fog.  Those relationships are like seeds.  Not every seed germinates, but enough do to keep things going and growing.  Another favorite thing about gardeners is their hope.  The winter will end, the weather will warm, and the garden will grow again.  If it grows slowly or poorly, they tend it with special care until the weather gets better.  Should that special care not help, they do differently, or even start over.  They stake up the delphiniums that have gone over, and they replant when things die.  This seems like a good way to live, does it not?

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