Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Meaning of the Details

Today I began a brick path leading to my gazebo. As storm clouds and thunder rolled in, I also outlined my gazebo shade garden with brick edging. The garden now has more definition. As I gardened, I began thinking...the beauty is in the details. Containers with pretty pots; a rustic wooden fence as a backdrop; stone paths; arches covered in vines; fairies tucked under hostas -- the details are what make the garden special. Beyond color schemes and plant varieties, the man-made elements of a garden call attention to the gardener's handiwork. I will finish out this season further defining pathways and tucking visual elements into the setting to put my stamp on my landscape. After all, showing our unique talents and viewpoints is part of what gardening is all about.

There is an area of historical study called "material culture." I was speaking to a friend about this yesterday. Material culture involves the study of the symbolism and hidden meaning of man-made objects. It involves looking at artifacts to determine what a culture or individual meant by the creations they left behind. One can examine a garden for its beauty. Or, one can dig even further and seek to understand the gardener through an examination of her style and the incorporated elements in her garden.

While researching my book, "The Gardener's Soul," I was especially struck by this method of understanding the gardener when I met a woman with very high end artistic taste. Her garden was tastefully peppered with fine art sculpture such as a bench by a well-known local artist. Tucked in one corner of the garden was a little gargoyle. He seemed out of place amidst the expensive stone artworks. He seemed an ordinary piece of garden whimsy. I wanted to know what this little piece of sculpture said about this gardener. Her garden was meticulous. The plants were in neat rows with neat pathways and few weeds. In conversation, I learned that this woman liked to feel in control of her surroundings and her life. Yet, I could feel that this deeply organized and image conscious person had a wild side that she kept close to her. When I mentioned the seemingly disparate gargoyle, she gave me a sly smile as if I discovered a little secret.

Faces on my trees; a sign that reads "If you are a fairy princess please come in"; a cat weather vane, Buddhist sculptures; curvy pathways -- all reveal different aspects of my personality. I wonder how people would read me if they ventured upon my gardens without a tour. Mom? cat person? Buddhist?

What secrets do your garden objects reveal about you? Or, are you conscientiously shouting a message to the world about yourself?

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