There is an unmistakable rhythm in the gardening year. With the coming of early spring, the garden moves from sparse bloom into the explosive profusion of midsummer. The movement from this midsummer bounty of bloom toward winter reverses the cycle, turning it back toward sparseness. Autumn inevitably is a season of winding down, of ceasing, but its changes are very slow and gradual, and if plants are chosen carefully for what they bring to the garden at this time of year, fall can also bring bounty — and I don’t mean only its harvest of apples and pumpkins … The problem with our gardens in autumn lies not in the absence of plants that are lovely then but in our neglect of the season, our failure to widen our knowledge and exercise our imaginations, and our sticking to old, well-trodden, and familiar paths.
I have been trying to learn the art of bonsai for the last few years (off and on, as it is time-consuming when done well, and I have many other demands on my time). A favorite book is Bonsai Aesthetics: A Practical Guide, by Francois Jeker.
All of us can, in some modest way, create something beautiful. Therefore, the aesthetics of bonsai is something learned. The Japanese codified this art and formalized the rules. Let us try to absorb and understand them. These rules will quickly appear natural to us because they were born from observing nature. The day will come when, with rules forgotten, we will be able to explore new paths.”
I think that captures the advanced stage of most arts: once the artist has mastered the fundamentals, s/he is free to explore and express the individual vision with the depth and nuance of having all the tools. Here is one more favorite “snippet” from Jeker’s book, relating a conversation he had with legendary bonsai master John Naka:
One day I asked John Naka if he talked to his trees. He made a look as if he was angry: ‘Who do you take me for? Bonsai has nothing to do with superstition! Of course I don’t speak to them!
I am content with listening to them …’
I think I need to spend more time listening to trees.
A child’s garden should be a place where children are allowed to run, play, climb, and freely experience natural materials and bodily sensations. Flowers and berries for picking can be planted in exuberant swaths, with paths made perhaps of yellow bricks winding through their beds. Climbing trees and hiding bushes should camouflage every corner. Miniature forests and meadows can be planted, miniature hills mounded, places for digging and constructing set aside. Rabbit hutches and doghouses should be designed with whimsical flair instead of utilitarian drudge. And water is essential — it is children’s (not to mention adults’) favorite outdoor feature.
From A Child’s Garden: Enchanting Outdoor Spaces for Children and Parents, by Molly Dannenmaier.
Judy at New England Garden and Thread casually mentioned in a comment on her latest post that she used to take part in the annual Portsmouth Fairy House Tour. How did I not know about this?? Adding this to my bucket list of things to do when next we visit relatives in NH; will have to time visit accordingly! Apparently this tour is the world’s largest fairy houses event.
What is a fairy house, you may ask? From Tracy Kane at FairyHouses.com: “Fairy Houses are small structures for the fairies and nature’s friends to visit. Sticks, bark, dry grasses, pebbles, shells, feathers, seaweed, pine cones and nuts are just some of the natural materials that can be used. Ranging from simple to intricate ‘Fairy Mansions’, these whimsical habitats are built by children, families, gardeners and nature lovers reflecting their creativity, joy and pride.” Tracy and Barry Kane have written and photographed a charming series of books with ideas for fairy houses, as well as a guidebook for children about making their own. You can find a gallery of their photographs here: FairyHouses.com Photo Gallery. We had a couple of these books when my children were small and we had a lot of fun with them.
On a related note, one of our favorite movies has been “FairyTale: A True Story.” It is the film based on the actual incident of two girls who were believed to have taken real-life photos of real fairies in Yorkshire, just after World War I (the “Cottingley Fairies”). They became minor celebrities, promoted by the likes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Part of the movie’s story involves elaborate fairy houses built by the deceased, artistic older brother of one of the girls, who died at the age of ten.
My children are no longer interested in fairy houses or fairy tales but maybe, as C.S. Lewis once wrote, maybe someday they will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. I think I’m there.
Today’s Saturday Snippet, from Moss Gardening, by George Schenk:
The moss plant earns our respect, even our sense of awe, as one of the world’s lengthier successes in the business of living. Fossil traces confirm an age of moss that goes back about 400 million years, give or take an eon. Moss is older and more lowly than a fern, but higher and more august on life’s ladder than the lichen, that slow sharer of many places where moss lives. On sheer face value, the bun or mat of moss is an impressive creation despite lack of height. Images of the plant probably stand out as clearly in a person’s mind as those of a pine tree, a dandelion, or a head of lettuce. We pause to study moss, especially after a rain, and carry away a lasting impression of a plant velvety green and vibrant and yet soothing. Moss is a human experience well noted.
Sometimes when I am weeding in the late afternoon, I hear the vibrating wings of the ruby-throated hummingbird before I see it dipping its beak into the long tubular flowers of the blue anise sage (Salvia guaranitica) called Black and Blue for its cobalt-blue petals and near-black calyxes at the base of the flowers. Hummingbirds are shy, but if I remain perfectly still, it is usually so intent on the nectar inside those deep blue trumpets that I can admire it out of the corner of my eye as it backs out of one flower and moves on to another. Then, in a flash of iridescent green and red, it is gone.
Anne Raver, In The Garden, The New York Times, August 20, 2014.