11 Jan 2015

Stanley Kunitz's Friendly Reminder: Your Garden Is A Reflection of the Self.

I am revisiting a book that was originally loaned to me by a delightful gardening friend and his wife, during a visit to their property four years ago. Georg and I were chattily comparing our respective garden book libraries, and Karen made the suggestion that she thought I might enjoy 'The Wild Braid,' by renowned poet Stanley Kunitz. This late poet has been lauded and received almost every honour to be bestowed upon a poet in the United States, including the Pulitzer and Bollingen Prizes, a National Medal of the Arts, The Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America, as well as a National Book Award in Poetry. This slim volume consists of the 'distillations of conversation that took place between 2002 - 2004. Stanley Kunitz passed away in his one hundredth year in 2006.
Writing and gardening filled his lifetime to capacity, and I too find myself leaning heavily towards a similar life. To be gifted with such talents - both in the garden and on a sheaf of paper leaves me in awe! Kunitz eloquently made this comparison:

'... I associate the garden with the whole experience of being alive, and so, there is nothing in the range of human experience that is separate from what the garden can signify in its eagerness and its insistence, and in its driving energy to live - to grow and bear fruit.'

He makes mention that a garden in in essence, an 'interplay of forces,' - a phrase that resonates deeply for me. For as much as I responded to my garden, the garden in turn would inevitably respond to my touch, my presence. Is this not the reason why most of us garden? He contends that what we plant in our gardens is a direct reflection of our own sensibilities, our most private parts of our beings, our souls, and that by looking at a garden, we can discern a person's personality. What a profound reality that is! I have always believed that gardening is one of humanities truest expressions of autobiography. I like to think that my own garden is a reflection of my personality, and that the plant selections that make up its repertoire are nothing less than intimate and personal glimpses into the mirror of my soul. An exercise is thus in order:

Look at your garden - either as a whole, or as a sum of its individual parts. What does its plantings say about you as a person? Your personalities? [for we are all composed of a mass of personalities are we not?] Your sensibilities? Or nonsensibilities for that matter!

This post begins with what has over the years become what is known as my 'signature' plant, that being Corydalis flexuosa 'Blue Panda.' What does it say about me? Blue is traditionally a masculine colour, yet I do not consider myself to be overly masculine. It [Corydalis] is a very delicate, lacy plant, with flowers that to my eye resemble a floating shoal of intensely blue seahorses. It is often said to be temperamental in the garden, resenting the hear and humidity that is relatively consistent here in Ontario, Canada where I garden. It represents a colour that is often alluded to, but is very rarely represented in its true form. We come closer to the crux of its importance in my garden. Blue will forever be associated with the colour of my late Father and Grandmother's eyes. For me, the garden is an extension of their lives. They visit me every year while my 'Blue Panda' is flowering. Blue for me is the most sentimental of colours and is thus the most important colour in my garden. Being given the opportunity to witness the stunning beauty of Meconopsis x sheldonii var. 'Lingholm' which bloomed in the week that celebrated their and my own birthdays will forever remain the strongest evidence that their 'essence' remains closest to me when I  am in the garden.

I pride myself as being a collector of the rare and unusual. Were they to be frankly honest, a lot of my friends might also describe me as being somewhat, 'rare and unusual.' I have always marched to my own drumbeat. I don't fit into any given status quo. I like to stand out from the crowd, but in a very solitary manner. I am very much my own person, but am also extremely private. I think my plants know me better than any other living being. Perhaps this is why I am so drawn to Kunitz's mention of the 'interplay of forces.' I do not consider myself to be an overly affectionate person, insofar as displaying it is concerned, except for when I am in the garden. I cannot not bend to lift the delicate head of a prized perennial Cyclamen, or gently caress the diminutive flower of my beloved Anemonopsis macrophylla, both considered to be somewhat rare and unusual. My garden is a refection of my insistence that like myself, my garden be filled with plant material that will cause people to stop and take notice. 'Whatever is that?' is my favourite question when people visit!

My sense of humour is best reflected in the more bizarre plants that I cultivate here at Teza's Garden. I will forever be enamoured with the newly emerging stems of Syneilesis aconitifolia, that closely resemble a miniature army of shredded green umbrellas! I adore their entire uniqueness, and cannot help but laugh as they peek out from beneath the freshly melted soil every Spring! 'The Aliens and Coming, The Aliens are Coming!' The same can be said for my ever increasing collection of Arisaema specimens as well. For me there is no other plant that imbues a garden with its darkly sinister, viper like menacing beauty than this genus! It was the very first one I ever learned to memorize, and over the ensuing years, it continues to hold me spellbound in its grasp!

Having the opportunity to closely monitor the transformation of Arisaema griffithii [grown this past Spring in my window] was the highlight of my 'downtime' during the month of February! It is one of the most spectacular of those that I grow. Here are a few more, including the nefarious Dracunculus vulgaris, also known as the Voodoo Lily! Is he not menacing beautiful? And then of course there is the blushing Arisaema candidissimum, my resident Prince Charming!

I love revisiting this most adept of gardening philosophies. My garden is indeed a reflection of me as a person: my quirkiness, my many idiosyncrasies, my strong sense of independence, my sentimentality [rarely visible on the surface, but a deep running current nonetheless!] and my unending respect and reverence for Nature's spellbinding displays of unadulterated beauty! Thank you Stanley Kunitz for reminding me that my garden is indeed a reflection of myself!


CanadianGardenJoy said...

Sweetie ... this was one of your most enjoyable posts to date ! I love it !
You have illustrated an amazing self analysis by way of your garden plants that reveal far more of your character than I have picked up.
My favorite is your sense of humor of course .. that made me really grin :)
I think one common thread of all gardeners is that sense of respect and love of nature .. how could we be gardeners without that deep core within us ?
I hadn't noticed your sidebar picture looking so much like a Sherlock Holmes character .. made me giggle too.
You know yourself so well I am envious .. I have no idea what my garden says about me quite frankly other than the new HIGH fencing makes me happy for it's privacy .. I would love to be lost in my own world of plants not hearing or seeing anything of the outside world .. hum ? makes me a loner garden lover ? LOL
This was a great read .. thank you !
Take care
Joy : )

Barry said...

A huge hug coming your way! You were my very first 'commentor' on my blog when I started it, and I have come to enjoy and look forward to your wonderful 'conversations.' This book has really helped me pass what can be a long and tortuous winter, what with SAD and all! I sense a dedicated gardener when looking at your pics, but I also see a completely fun and whimsical side of you as well. Methinks I am a pretty good judge of character!