Sunday, March 25, 2012

Axis of Evil, and all that...

Politicians wed a while ago that contemporary communication malaise called the "sound-byte." Of course, we might attribute this unholy alliance to Twitter and Tweets and Feeds and Status Updates, but really, the sound-byte has a protracted, though not necessarily venerable, history.

"Tippecanoe and Tyler Too."

"A Day that will Live in Infamy."

"The Buck Stops Here."

"Labour is not Working" (for you Anglophiles and those on that side of the pond).

There are certainly more colorful ones, such as the unwittingly sexualized "We Polked You in '44,We Shall Pierce You in '45" (boy did that one work!) and more ominous ones, such as "Arbeit Macht Frei."

The Sound-byte, the slogan, is supposed to capture an essence, a Weltanschauung, through rhythm or metaphor or some form of word play. For the most part, it does that even if ones from times past may have lost resonance to contemporary ears.

Of course, there are inadvertent slogans, such as "Read My Lips" or "It's the Economy Stupid" or "Where's the Beef?!" that assume the de facto status of slogo-sound-byte. These are perhaps the best ones, in part because they are so ostensibly off-the-cuff, though I can't help but find geekish infatuation in the devised "Labour is not Working."

In 2002, George W. most famously gave us the "axis of evil" in reference to that unholy trinity of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, to which John Bolton added Cuba, Libya, and Syria as a "beyond the axis" category. Not to be outdone, Condoleezza Rice constructed an "outposts of tyranny" label for Belarus, Zimbabwe, and Myanmar. That's the thing about slogo-sound-bytes: they demand one-up-(wo)manship, such that "Four More Years" became "Four More Wars."

The garden is not immune to the creation of axes, and even to one-up-manship.

Corydalis lutea, in a sort of women's lib protest, inserted herself in the axis of white in the entrance sun garden, 

while reds of the most alluring sort provide stimulation in an otherwise calming front garden-scape dominated as it is this time of year by whites, blues, pale greens, and a few accompanying splashes of yellow. Here, the vibrancy of the red tulips (which, to remind my reader, were labeled Tulipa Triumph Deep Blue) is pulled through to the other side of the garden in the delicate chartreuse flowers of Rudold Waleuphrud Euphorbia.

Looked at from another angle, reds appear in deeper, regal hues (in the guise of the Ben Franklin Double Red Peony) and the ruddy legs of Rudolf Waleuphrud. Yes, dear reader, his carpet matches the drapes.

In the gardening world, "repetition" is the equivalent of the slogo-sound-byte. Repetition of color or particular plant "draws the eye" around and through the garden, and provides some continuity that lends coherence to the whole. In the East Side Shade Bed I use the rather pedestrian Diamond Tiara Hosta as a a visual avenue linking the whole bed. Diamond Tiara also finds limited homes in other parts of the rear garden, thereby providing a continuity of flow and a respite for one's eyes.

Diamond Tiara Hosta is good-natured, for it knows that its presence--really only spectacular in the early spring before other plants emerge--allows the spotlight to always shine upon others: whether Kirengeshoma palmata Yellow Waxbells, Kerria japonica, the late spring blooming fuchsia Astilbes, or the Nikko Blue Hydrangea.

In the rear garden, yellows and whites provide the visual axes. But this is a special time of year, for deep blues make a pronounced appearance. Kerria japonica put on quite the show this year with its brilliant, luteous flowers. For a brief spell, golds and yellows dominated; whites, notably on the margins of the Diamond Tiara but also in the stands of bell-like flowers of Pieris japonica and now in the Leatherleaf Viburnum which overhangs the Buddha bed, help alleviate the visual stress. Now, streams of blue thread through the garden, rather explosive in their appearance, yet always, simultaneously, exuding a sense of respite. 

Lysimachia (Creeping Jenny) accentuates the margins of Golden Tiara Hosta, set as they are against a backdrop of black mulch. The drama in the lantern bed is provided by jessamy axis, which begins with the Golden Tiaras, extends through the Lemon Drop Hostas (one of which is seen at the top of the above photo), accented only at this time of year by June Plantain Hosta, and filtered out through the pale-yellow white (ochroleucous) of the Ghost Fern at the far end of the bed, situated at the base of Nandina.

All of the visual axes, and all of these insertions, remind us of the sheer ephemerality of the construction, whether that construction be the garden or the slogo-sound-byte. For blooming times pass, and politicians go. Tweets flutter away with alarming alacrity, making a mockery of the person we are and the things we do, just as the status update demands not stagnation but contemporization. But in the end something remains: the principle remains...the principle that gives our lives and our myriad of activities meaning, the principle that evidences our desire to be in this world, remains. And so we have Vita's Sissinghurst and Johnston's Hidcote, Jeckyll's Munstead Wood and Lloyd's Great Dixter, and for you mid-Atlantic folk, the DuPonts' Winterthur and Longwood, and Bartram's garden to join all of those slogo-sound-bytes that are now the residue of history. 


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