The following is a statement from my plant tour of the Seattle University campus this afternoon, hosted by the Hedreen Gallery. JD
People love gardening and gardens. They delight in the sensual beauty of plants and the opportunity to construct their own living, breathing work of art. But what can be gained from gardening is a shift in perception and the discovery of a wider, deeper field of vision.
Plants possess properties that allow us to understand the world in complex ways. Each day of the year a tree puts on a unique, specific display that allows us to recognize not only the season but its progress. The swelling and breaking of buds, the emergence of leaf and bloom, the opening and abscission of the flower, the maturation, transformation and ultimate fall of the foliage and fruit, and the outward reach and hardening off of the new shoots all indicate a particular moment in time in the course of the year.
Beyond the season, trees have developed their unique characteristics and habit in response to both evolutionary processes and the immediate conditions of their placement. The thickness, color, size and position of the leaf, the surface and texture of the bark, and the structure of the branches and canopy all reflect thousands of years of pressure from specific environments. On a more immediate level, a particular specimen reacts to the conditions of its placement, namely its exposure to light, temperature, wind and human interference.
In other words, all of the tree’s physical attributes have a role and purpose. The gardener, through his or her labor and powers of observation, seeks to understand their biological intent.
The garden, with its combination of scenic and sensory effects, is a work of art that represents the designer’s idea of order. It is not fixed; it is a dialogue between the gardener and the forces of nature. We create a garden in accordance with our knowledge and it responds to us with information of its own. As we make adjustments we refine our ability to read its messages and gain further knowledge. The resulting physical space becomes a manifestation of our vision and process.
But the real transformation takes place within us. As we look around at the world, we find our perception of it altered through this experience of the garden. The structure of natural landscapes, the architecture of human-built environments and even the works of art we observe take on a new dimension. Our ability to recognize natural phenomena and discern stages in the cycles of life and death gives us a new power - and a new vocabulary – to make sense of things.