Vegetal Key (what gardening is)

I read today a wonderfully written post which, amongst other things, talked about its author’s reading of nature. It stirred me. I would like to answer to her but 1) my little comment was again sent by WordPress to the bin ; 2) I have had no time to think properly. This somewhat clumsy article is partly a side shoot of that beautiful text.

My God, Gardeners’ World is such an efficient feel-good program. Folks, forget about wars and scars, injustice and hatred. Behold community gardens bringing different generations and social classes together, see how a bare plot of land can become the bed for what I’d like to describe as a garden of people, sharing knowledge and stories in an important and often otherwise unattainable physical closeness. Those hands together in the soil fertilise time.

I realised today, listening to the marvelous Roy Lancaster interviewed by Carol Klein (episode 18), how choked by emotion I get when people talk about their love for plants. In this interview, Roy stressed how his interest in all things vegetal led to a much wider awareness of the intricate texture and nature of the world. First, you are drawn to a plant’s aspect, which then tells you about its environment (why does it grow in such place, next to that other plant, how does it respond to the setting, etc). Little by little, your interest widens from one area to another to, potentially, the whole planet (which obviously includes people – oh how daft and simplistic the opposition between nature and humankind).

And certainly, for me, learning about plants has changed my conscience of… everything. I grew up in a big city, often tightly locked in my own body, as many urban teenagers do, with an incredibly narrow conscience of the world. Nature, to which I have nonetheless always been drawn, remained mute – nameless. And I knew the world was inhabited, but in a sort of hopeless, opaque and frustrating way. England’s most valuable trait, an ever faithful attention to the living world, unlocked me. Now – call me crazy if you will – I feel I can perceive its whisper. As I wrote in another post about landscapes, I don’t clearly understand what it “says” (is it even possible ?), but I can hear what seems to be a voice and a call. Higher happiness came in its wake, with the sense of fullfilment gained when pieces of a previously mixed-up jigsaw finally fall into place.

Roy Lancaster’s relationship with plants illustrates what I love about gardening. It isn’t (just) about putting nice colours in the right place (subjective anyway) or expressing one’s personality (honorable yet still self-centred). It is certainly not about showing proofs of suburban respectability (those hanging baskets…), nor even about being a good-hearted person caring for living things.

It is about opening eyes, ears, nose and hand, fine-tuning one’s skin to wind and seasons, learning the language of time and space, the matter of light – of LIFE. And death, most importantly. Feeling the mystery of each (moment ? event ? Can’t find the notion yet) which relies on it already passing away and yet throwing roots into eternity. Nowhere better than with trees and plants have I felt that time, though painfully (or mercifully) real, is only superficial. Gardening can be a discovery of one’s soul, created for connexion and love. In my interpretation, Adam and Eve were not left in the first Garden to own and control, but primarily to listen and learn, to be defined as much as to define.

(That burst of recognition in my heart when Roy Lancaster talked about the knowledge passed onto him of the Latin names : “I realised then the names were keys to unlock these histories of plants. The world came alive for me through the names of plants”. 
Names : music. Altogether seals of individuality and keepsakes of long gone people’s perceptions and knowledge. Poetry. Gates : in the post I mention at the beginning of this article, the author says she doesn’t need to know the names to appreciate and love, but also admits nature talks to her about herself, her own history and emotions. Knowing the names allows me to step outside and see the other. That is the path to love. I will deny that it is an illusion.)

(Oddly, I have not taken part in the community gardening schemes which florished around my quartier, in Paris. For the moment, gardening still needs to be a solitary occupation for me – rather, a silent one. That is, with the blackbirds jumping and racketing around.)

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