Sunday, July 17, 2011

Adult (Dis)pleasures XI: Judging

We all judge. Every day we judge.

We judge others for what they say, what they wear, what they do.  Sometimes our judgments are constructive ("the evidence you provide for this argument is thin, but if you reframe the argument the evidence becomes much more powerful"). Sometimes our judgments are innocuous ("compared to the sprightliness of Prague, I must say I don't like's too cold and austere of a city though I'd still go back"). Other times, our judgments are just plain catty ("can you believe X wore that hideous dress/shirt/tie/suit/etc.?!").

The field of judgment has been vastly expanded by technology, and its social media offspring like Facebook (or, perhaps more appropriately stated, the opportunities and the publicity of our varied judgments have multiplied, not necessarily the act of judgment itself). Facebook, I've noticed, permits all of us to be hedonists and voyeurs: roles that no doubt both attract the judgment of others and encourage our own forays into what can be, depending on how articulated, an unbecoming activity.

Last Saturday, I opened my garden to judgment by unknown others. I thought it would be an exercise in anxiety, but it turned out to be rather innocuous and actually somewhat enjoyable. The City Garden Competition, sponsored by the Delaware Center for Horticulture and supported by the DuPont Company, celebrates the art of city gardening and rewards those who try to beautify the city.

But beauty is, as the proverb goes, in the eye of the beholder. And so some may scoff at your perennial-dominated garden because it "lacks color." Others may condescend at your "organic, pedestrian" attempt to "garden" because it fails to cohere with one's particular image of a garden--usually, in that case, a professionally installed Italianate garden rich in sculpted topiary and statuary, or French geometric patterned, delineated beds in a vast sea of garden space that can only exude wealth.

Yet the hope is that collections of judges, multiples of them, can agree on what constitutes beauty in the garden even if one clearly bemoans a lack of color provided by an infusion of annuals.  In that regard, we might say proper judgment, as well as conceptions of beauty, are at root connected to principles and the application of them to specific circumstances.

And so the judges on that hot, but unusually not humid, July morning, underscored the difference between judgment as cattiness and judgment as serious, principled endeavor: they asked questions. If at first glance the sun garden at 410 looks in the summer like a mass of foliage, punctuated only occasionally by a flower, and thus uninteresting, questions provoked my exegesis on design, about which I've already blogged.

The "interrogation" (by which I mean no normative judgment, just a description of the questioning that took place that day) in the end made my entry into the City Garden Competition all worth it. It frankly makes no difference to me whether or not I win. What really mattered was the sharing of my garden experience with others, and their genuine concern (at least on a professional level in those particular moments of judging) with design principles, aesthetics,and the joy of gardening in all its forms.

I hope you enjoy these photos taken on the morning of the contest (after, I might add, an evening of intense thunderstorms and heavy rain that lasted several hours).

The Blue Fescue Grass provides a nice counterpoint to the vibrancy of Crocosmia, though some may think the juxtaposition is garish. 

The East Side Shade Bed begins with the alacrity of Orange Marmalade Hosta paired with the coolness of the Sawtooth Aucuba, both of which anticipate colors and hues that appear throughout the rear shade gardens.

Though her margins have faded as the summer progresses (as all hosta colors invariably do), the Golden Tiarra Hosta looks smashing after a cleansing rain.

I now have two Lemon Drop Hostas to create an "echo" effect or what garden designers call rhythm.

Taking a broader view, the Lemon Drop hosta picks up on the avocado green of the Guacamole Hosta.

On the other side of the rear shade garden, the Nikko Blue Hydrangea has now faded, as have the vibrant gold margins of Aureomarginata Hosta. But they still offer a sense of beauty that comes with the patina of aging.

The Christmas Eve Hosta in front of the Buddha usually does not fare well in exceptional summer heat, so I think I need to make an offering to the Buddha for helping it flourish this season.


  1. While I am no professional in the field of gardening, I am a strong believer in the importance of living life in a manner that brings us joy and beauty. This I believe your garden does, not only for you but also for those of us who are in awe with its beauty, its zen-like tranquility and yet its splashes of color. Also, for some of us, life (including gardens) are best presented when allowed to be organic and free of too much manipulation. Therefore, as one voyeur (grace a Facebook) thanks for bringing your beautiful garden into my world ; )MM

  2. What an absolutely lovely note, MM. I am deeply grateful.

  3. You are very talented!