Garden or the bush
“I have never seen a garden though that came close to the perfection of the bush. Never. Planted forests are the same. Gardens of Australian natives are too. Or they’re worse. Beautiful gardens are too simple or too cluttered, arch or contrived, gaudy or drab, too neat or, fraying. Always, they demand that we look away from little flaws, from their wearying mutability, or that we blur our eyes. Time eats away at them, dissolving the intentions of makers and caretakers who can never quite anticipate just how it will fall from grace and never quite keep up with the maintenance. A lawn thins under growing trees, broad-leaved weeds creep over the shaded ground, and a planted forest is bare underneath. A pruned shrub or a trained vine needs to grow back a bit. At the same time though it portends tomorrow’s cares. Of course garden lovers make a virtue of this: the beauty of a garden is always a passing beauty, the passing beauty of repose and admiration after labour, or of things decorously decaying before they fall into abject neglect.
True garden lovers love the narrative and sweat of their labour and the contemplation of its being succeeded by nature’s labour. Yet this beauty is in the bush too, and the fruits of labour in the bush of nature’s and of ours still always outdo the contrivances of the garden. Always. The bush as bush never has flaws. It only develops them when it shows the traces of the imposition of garden culture in weeds or strange plantings or jerry buildings or roads or litter. Free of such imposition, and utterly confident of its gifts, the bush shows shows off mortality and uncertainty and the passing of time in its narrative spectacle as natural beauty.” Ross Macleay, Nature-Culture. Ross writes beautifully and is almost persuasive.
In terms of ephemerality, Ross may have been thinking of Robert Pogue Harrison who wrote in ‘Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition’ that they’re not meant to last, since they ”reenchant the present”. In ‘Philosophy in the Garden’ Damon Young positions gardens between worldly cities and wilderness, a third realm where humanity and nature become visible by interacting.
Following my arguments in Stowe, I agree with David Cooper when he writes, “garden appreciation somehow fuses, or factors out into, art and nature appreciation.” (A Philosophy of Gardens). Ross Gibson writes that gardens are “like comprehensible and pleasurable versions of the messy contemporary world—interactive, delicate, hard work, generative, social, beautiful, requiring constant care and co-operation.” (Tending, future city, a garden experiment, Realtime 103). I love the bush but contra Ross, I love gardens, visiting them, being in mine and the yakka of gardening too. The techne of gardening is important.
“Beauty restores your trust in the world. During this past 13 years I’ve been working on a big project about nuclear weapons and the fact that the current military arrangements we have are not compatible with democracy. The more I work on that, the more it happens that I need to read poems. And work my garden. Beauty restores your trust in the world.” Elaine Scarry
In 1958, Ezra Pound was released from St Elizabeths having written of the failure of the cantos he decided to build a temple. He and his daughter went to a quarry looking for suitable stone but the plan was abandoned. Gardening is therapeutic, he should have taken it up. Wittgenstein worked as a gardener in his thirties to get away from the Academy, Orwell worked on his garden in Jura. Gardens need constant attention and hard work, there is always something dying, or struggling and something blooming or thriving, and it always involves learning, that alone should be a recommendation.
Jane Drakard quotes garden writer, Edna Walling (1895–1973): “There is little doubt that as we advance in the designing of our garden in Australia, we shall derive more and more inspiration from the old gardens of Italy […]. The chief elements of the Italian garden – stone, water and trees – are most appropriate to the conditions governing the construction of gardens in Australia.”
This is on the wrong track if gardens are to become an important part of conserving Australian flora and fauna. Our garden is mainly natives, but exclusively, a garden is art and nature intertwined. But our gardens have become important as refuges. George Seddon argues that “gardeners are, in fact, one of the most important groups of land managers in this country, since between us we manage more than 50 per cent of all urban land in Australia, that is, the land that carries 80 per cent of the population: land that is not vast in area compared with that managed by farmers, pastoralists, miners and state agencies, but greater in value and in resource consumption than all of them.” (‘Gardening responsibly’ from ‘The Garden As Paradise’).
Gardens have become an industry, George Seddon notes: “The disciplines of scarcity are relaxed. Not only is water abundant and used wastefully. Fertilisers, pressure-pack sprays, pelleted snail-killer, all add to the convenience of gardening, as take-away foods, full of fat, sugar and salt, add to the convenience of eating. Gardening has become a conspicuous element in the consumer society.” (in ‘The Nature of Gardens’, ed., Peter Timms).
In a time of displacement, when we move around, lose track of place, environment, even seasons gardening helps us find place and get in touch with the natural processes that give life to our environments. ‘Nature’ is floating in a global environment of eco-meltdown, awareness of natural processes and events are a first step so the time you spend in the bush, and arts that work with nature are important. It must be the garden and the bush.