JARS v55n3 - Commentary

Edward S. Rothman
North Hills, Pennsylvania

One reads that in the ancient languages the word "garden" was rendered as "paradise." We read that the Queen of Sheba brought African plants to her collector friend Solomon. John Masefield suggests that the cargoes carried by the "quinquiremes" of Nineveh from distant Ophir "carried more than apes, peacocks, and sweet white wine, maybe even the vines that produced the excellent wine of Shiraz." We have forgotten the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, never mind the parquetry-type formal palace gardens at Versailles and in Britain gardens of the last centuries. They do not fit our lifestyles. Now any young man with a truck and a gasoline lawnmower can call himself a landscaper.

A garden ought to be an echo of nature, a place for quiet breathing and meditative enjoyment. Have you read of gardeners of Japanese nobility who would destroy an existing garden for the pleasure of starting a new creation to their own taste? This sometimes meant pirating rare "magic stones" from faraway gardens for use in the new project. Gardens were thought of as works of art like great symphonies or paintings with stone, water, and plants instead of pigment on canvas. An old gnarled tree long cared for could be trained much like a small pot bonsai treasure. Basic principles of unity and variety are universal in both time and place and apply to our times too.

Why then must we tolerate the monotonous sameness of our residential gardens showing, for example, the routine potted chrysanthemums soon to be discarded as though they were temporary annuals? With the multiplicity of unusual plants and materials now at our disposal, there is no reason for the prison-like same uniformity seen everywhere. Gardens are like song and should make us sing.