Tuesday, August 20, 2013

On Discipline

When I began this blog, I freely admitted my promiscuity.

In fact, the confessional appeared in my second entry, Public Confession #1. Lena Scotch Broom, with her tantalizingly tangelo and lemon yellow flowers, was the Ariadne to my Theseus.

Of course, most gardeners are promiscuous. When allured by the brazen sexuality of a flower with an extended stamen or a fleshy pistil, or a flashy dress of petals; when seduced by color, whether bold or subtle, the hue of which captures light "just right" and brightens (and broadens) our perspectives; when enchanted by the elfin charm of an exotic or unusual varietal; when embraced by the brawn of a handsome plant, we gardeners genuflect before the pot or the price tag, our prurient desires satisfied--always thinking, "just one plant won't hurt."

And yet they usually do hurt, that is, if the garden is one of design and the paramour in question introduces yet another shade of desire. Otherwise, a riot of color in an unplanned garden may (a highly contingent "may," mind you) actually look quite good--an homage of sorts to the quintessential English cottage garden.

Recently, owing to changes on the other side of the fence, I've had to rethink the backyard shade garden (yesterday, more was removed, yet this time I was so gratefully consulted by the owner and tall, tanned, sandy-haired, and toned-muscular landscaper; my eye-candy must have thought my flirtations importunate yet, at the same time, flattering, because he repeatedly asked if his work and pruning satisfied me). But I digress...discipline...oh yes, right.

Knowing the predicament I faced, a friend, Rich, so thoughtfully introduced me to his gardener friend, Kevin, who faced the opposite situation: enlarged trees and shrubs created increasing shade for what was once a predominantly sun garden. We met and exchanged some plants, one of which was this Agastache (above and aside), the blooms of which are more diminutive than is customary whose Greek nomenclature directs us to its many tall spikes of purple flowers--but I did shock her by transplanting just prior to flowering. I paired it with Baby Blue hosta, which I think, once both become fuller next year, will look smashing together.

With the transplanted Heliopsis--also a gift from Kevin--and the spring-blooming Kerria (which is happily offering the occasional "Japanese rose" even now in waning summer), I was suddenly reminded of my original design scheme, at least for the front garden: blue and white. Confronted with the specter of the present--yellows, blues, purples, and whites--and reminded of the pleasures of the recent past--a sporadic sprinkling of pink to accent those colors--I felt the disciplinary compulsion to reign in the garden and realize a design that went beyond a generic and loose commitment to 'East meets West', 'Japanese meets English cottage garden aesthetic' principles. Panoptikon lives.

Any garden designer (or magazine article on garden design)--even those who specialize in cottage gardens, which appear to the untrained eye as a simple melange but which really are not--will in varying degrees recommend or downright insist on discipline, even if that discipline manifests itself only as a limitation of color combinations along a particular segment of the color wheel (say, the yellow-greens to the reds for a fiesta of heat and salsa, or the red-violets to the dark greens to achieve a cooler, more meditative atmosphere), or to an analogic color scheme (colors alongside a given color), or, more restrictive still, to a composition of complementary or opposite colors (say, green and red, or blue and orange). The gardener and visitor alike (nay, the eye) will be rewarded, so we are told, by the commitment to a scheme.

I think there is an added, often curiously unstated, benefit: the gardener becomes well versed in a particular array of plants and flowers. Surely, one can visit the local garden center and purchase what is available. But the garden becomes more special, and is elevated in stature and meaning, when the gardener invests some time and energy to research and seek out, though internet and catalog perusal, unusual specimens that conform to a selected palette (keeping in mind that color comes from both flower and foliage!). And for garden snobs--surely, a Lady Mary lives in each of us!--there is no greater pleasure in showing off our finds and artistry. 

Of course, the $64,000 question (or the $1 million question when adjusted for inflation!) is whether I have enough discipline to realize and maintain my garden coloration scheme.

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