Monday, January 28, 2013

"Let Nature Never Be Forgot'

My wife hired a landscaper to survey our gardens and make suggestions for care and maintenance. He’s the same guy who advised the previous owners of our house on what to plant and where to plant it. Listening to him was a pleasure. In a broad, non-academic Texas drawl he sang the names, Latin and common, of almost every plant in the yard. He cooed at some of them: “Oh, she’s pretty. Just look at her.” He ordered us to promptly dispose of others: “You get rid of her. You don’t need her.” Every plant in his lexicon is feminine: “She’s a beauty.” I liked him for another reason: He wasn’t too proud to ask the meaning of words he didn’t know. I described a yard crew’s performance as “perfunctory.” “What’s that mean?” I told him and he said, “I like that. I’m gonna use that.” He had the same reaction when I used “epiphyte” to describe the ball moss, Tillandsia recurvata, that grows on the campus oaks. He knew “bromeliad” but welcomed the new designation. 

Best of all, he endorsed my “philosophy” of gardening – an artful mingling of wild and domesticated. I’ve never cared for the extremes of chaos or museum-like micro-management. Ed proved himself a modified classicist: “You want things tidy but not too tidy.” When he returns in a few weeks, I may suggest he read Alexander Pope’s “Epistle IV, To Richard Boyle, Earl of Burlington” (lines 47-56): 

“To build, to plant, whatever you intend,
To rear the Column, or the Arch to bend,
To swell the Terras, or to sink the Grot;
In all, let Nature never be forgot.
But treat the Goddess like a modest fair,
Nor over-dress, nor leave her wholly bare;
Let not each beauty ev'ry where be spy'd,
Where half the skill is decently to hide.
He gains all points who pleasingly confounds
Surprises, varies, and conceals the Bounds.”

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