To Love a Garden

Besieged by a spring storm, which roared down the strait from the Pacific hurling fir cones at the house like rocks from a catapult, I watched the rain that followed and thought how I like rain (which is good). Wetness darkens the various grays of tree trunks, gravel, and rocks to the same value, and ties the garden and forest together.

It’s a dramatic but temporary moment – like when the sun lights up some one part of the courtyard. It’s not the high and full sun of summer now, but sun broken up by tree trunks. And light through tall trees, especially filtered by mist, looks like light streaming through high cathedral windows.

Looking from indoors at the courtyard garden, I wondered how many of the plants could have been found in medieval times. Not so random as it seems, I was asking myself if I could link this garden and permaculture to my fondness for medieval things – for a sheltered garden, an old garden. Also I wondered why I need to do that.

Here in this beautiful wildness, which might well be enough in itself, I need a way to justify a garden, a way to unite plants to the surroundings. Some gardens, like my old one, know their flavor, their kind easily – here, carving a little chunk from the bigger and more important natural world challenges me.

The fence between the Buffalo and the big house defines the garden – in art making you’d call it a restraint – and in a way it replicates exactly how gardening began, in enclosed spaces, protected places holding out the unknown.

The four-square shape came about in much the way medieval monks might have designed a garden – necessary paths crossing the garden divided it into four beds. Such gardens, in spite of their inherent formality, adapt well to permaculture design in part because each bed has distinct micro-climates – south-facing slopes and shadier backsides.

Now in spring, the beds are full of the flowers depicted up the sides of pages of Books of Hours. I can imagine the little fruit trees, hellebore, old tulips, quince blossoms and bluebells as part of a garden in castle or cloister. And flowers of rosemary, scilla, Spanish hyacinth, and forget-me-nots – are all the same blue as the madonna’s gown in a Piero della Francesca painting.

In this experience of writing and drawing for the blog, I am trying to figure out and understand my place here. “Her spirits rose…” is so much a record keeping of the moment, not the story of making a garden and living happily ever after, but exploring how to love a garden, how to make it one’s own.

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