Tuesday, March 29, 2011

When Cover-up was All the Rage

"Politicians are magicians,
Who make swindles disappear.
The bribes they are taking,
the deals they are making,
never reach the public ear.
The left betrays, the right dismays
the country's broke and guess who pays
But tax each swindle in the making:
profits will be record breaking!
Everyone swindles some
so vote for who will steal for you."

--Alles Schwindel, Lyrics by Mischa Spoliansky

Ah, yes, Berlin cabaret songs from the Weimar era: who cannot but love to hear these little ditties about corruption, the collapse of social idealism, the bankruptcy of (Weimar) democracy, and the need to absorb oneself in the enjoyments of life (as the ominous Nazi clouds gather and the writing already appears on the wall)?!

Corruption and cover-ups: the inseparable twins of political life. Just think of famous scandals: the Catholic Church sex abuse, the Valerie Plame affair, Iran-Contra, Watergate, the My Lai Massacre, the Dreyfus Affair. All share at least one thing in common: cover-up.

Yes, cover-up is all the rage. But sometimes the cover-up is worse than the crime, at least when it comes to non-political scandals, and some, even domestic doyens who I and many others idolize, find that the cover-up ("Obstruction of Justice" is the technical legal term) truly is worse. It just sends all the wrong messages.

But gardeners, I am convinced, are IMMUNE from all that cover-up implies!  Yes, we are IMMUNE!  Indeed, we do great things when we engage in unapologetic acts of cover-up.

We hide the detritus of winter: the leaves, the dead plants, and the unsightly accumulations of half-decomposed vegetation, such as that which has accumulated in the corner where the stairs join the front porch and Corydalis lutea, profligate tart that she is, thrives on rotting organic material.

We help conserve moisture: adding a generous layer of mulch on the garden helps keep root systems, especially those that cloister around the surface, cool, and considerably slows evaporation, thereby reducing time spent watering.

We add organic material to the soil as mulch from previous years decomposes. During this year's mulching project, I disturbed some of last year's layer of mulch and discovered worms just below the surface hard at work, eating decomposing materials and expunging the excess, which is itself a tremendous source of nutrients to the soil. Though I clean out the egregious masses of debris, I do leave a generous supply of organic materials deposited by the winter winds, over which I lay the mulch. Not only is this method beneficial to plants and the soil, it also reduces the amount of work involved in cleaning the beds in early spring! Yes, we gardeners may indulge our inner bouts of laziness!  

And, aesthetically, we make the garden a more perfect, more beautiful place. If I may analogize for a moment: somehow, art museums think that white-washed walls highlight art. The point, curators aver, is to focus attention on the paintings, not on the environment (I worked in a museum for 2 years, and that is basically a direct quotation from a curator). Yet white-washed walls in my view have the opposite effect: they subdue that which we are supposed to enjoy. Place a painting in a different environment--against espresso colored walls, or in a vibrant red dining room--and art pops. Notice the difference between a museum's permanent galleries and its temporary exhibition spaces. Often much more creativity is deployed in the latter; the walls are swathed in luxurious colors. Subduction (if I may employ the term from tectonics) morphs immediately into elevation. Look at how Corona kaufmanniana tulip (the earliest blooming tulip), or the hosta spikes picture above or the new growth of the Sawtooth Aucuba are accentuated by the dark mulch (please ignore the over-exposure of my photos, as photographer I am not).

The same effect can be discerned in the garden. Plants pop against the dark background of mulch. They hover in an other-worldly space, just above the ground, drawing our perspective upwards and around, permitting us to concentrate on the charms of individual plants, listen to the conversation between the plants, and see the aura that is the garden.

But the cover-up that is mulching does have one significant cost: sore backs.

But the effects are worth a few days of aches--especially when there is a special someone waiting indoors to give you a massage...

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