October is one of my favorite times in the garden. The weather is pleasant and I find myself less manic than in spring. I enjoy the garden more now. As the plants prepare for dormancy, there is simply less for me to do. I’ll defer decisions about what to plant for dark winter evenings when green thoughts are necessary for my sanity. Now I move through the garden with a calm repose. The boxwood, yews, and espaliered firethorn get once last clip before the winter; sprawling summer annuals are cut back; and I make a few strategic transplants. Otherwise, I walk and look at the angled, autumnal light as it falls over the plants.
The garden is in its second year. Despite the fact that certain parts of the garden have an adolescent awkwardness, the garden is beginning to look a bit more established. As the garden settles into itself, I have a strange sensation that I’ve never felt before: the feeling of dominion.
“Dominion” is sort of an archaic, unfashionable sentiment, isn’t it? It reeks of colonialism and the idea of man controlling—even dominating—nature for profit. Not only is it a politically incorrect sentiment, but it is silly as well when applied to a tiny perennial border on a tenth of an acre lot. This is not Downtown Abbey, after all. But it is precisely what I feel. Two years of breaking the earth, planting, watering, re-planting, and endless gardening have resulted in the creation of a place that is anything but natural. I’m not simply a proud owner; I am the gardener who reigns over this plot. It is my dominion—not just a place, but an expression of identity and self.
That a garden can be an expression of identity is an interesting idea to me. The pre-modern man believed identity is a product of birth. You are who your father was, where you live, and what your social station is. In many ways, it is good that we’ve liberated identity from birthright. But modern man has perhaps too much power to dictate identity. We live in a post-authentic age. I have to remind myself that each time I participate in social media. Social media creates a seductive mirage, a watery image of our selves. Identity is not created by what you tweet, but what you do. What you create. What you love.
A slant of light shifts through the trees and illuminates a tall grass in my border. The October light is soft yet intense. The grass seems to glow from within, vibrating in incandescent ecstasy. I raise my hand to shield my eyes, but stop and instead stare into it. The intensity of the light makes my eyes water. Standing on the path, I try to absorb the moment. But just as quickly as it began, the sun slips again on the horizon and the moment is over. The grass turns a dull gray in the dusk.
It is enough though. I may have dominion over this plot, but the life that animates it is from beyond. I am grateful for a handful of luminous, radiant moments. They remind me who I am.
I love this post. I thinks gardens are relationships between persons and places. Relationships aren't typically symmetrical; each partner has different duties and responsibilities. Maybe you don't have dominion; maybe you're just the dominant partner?ReplyDelete
Thanks, Chris. Even though I may occasionally have the feeling of dominion, I am never really in control. Gardeners understand that perhaps as well as anyone right? There's a satisfaction in the feeling of control, but there's also a joy to discover it is an illusion.Delete
Lovely post, Thomas. The feeling of dominion can only occur within an unsymmetrical relationship, one that is on the brink of potential chaos at all times. You can't have one without the other.Delete
Dominion over my garden--which like yours is very new--is a fleeting sense of control and progress toward a constantly shifting goal. It is the fragile détente established with the porcelain berry on the fence, the momentary success of the red twig dogwood planted near the house, and the ease with which over 100 bulbs are planted in the new terraced beds. So they are made with Trex and rebar, who will notice when the daffs are up, come spring?
Present Susan looking out for future Susan. The luxury of being able to do that, to plan ahead with a reasonable guarantee of success . . . That is dominion and I am grateful for it.
Even lovelier comment, Susan. "Present Susan looking out for future Susan. The luxury of being able to do that, to plan ahead with a reasonable guarantee of success . . . that is dominion and I am grateful for it." Here here! Delightfully expressed as always.Delete
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What a lovley post--redolent of Richard Goodman's description of his little piece of land in French Dirt. It's hard to understand why I find this post to be so sensual when it's talking about a patriarchal topic like "dominion," but I think it's that I can picture the lazy sunlight dripping itself all over your border, splashing fire on the rusty hues of fall color and plump berries--beckoning repose. What you are surveying with pleasure is the mark of your hand. You expended effort and it yielded this thing--a made thing. Creativity, especially when connected to land, is such a purely human act that perhaps you're tapping into some kind of species memory and satisfaction. There is something heartbreaking and breathtaking about those moments: they are to be savored.Delete
I appreciate Susan's choice of the word "luxury", as I think when we can grasp those fleeting moments in the garden, we are swimming in abundance, and surely such riches give us a sense of dominion.
Thomas, you are a poet as well as a gardener, but then in many ways, aren't they the same?ReplyDelete
All your thoughts - dominion / archaic, social media / mirage - I tend to agree on those processes and the tasks involved. Here on the arid side of Z 7, I'm also doing some last potting up of some new plant gifts, then in-ground plantings next month plus fix lighting. Then done!ReplyDelete
Liked your post today. My garden does reflect me, its intimate spaces, its art choices, its vista and lake views. They all give "life" to my life. All is in motion, all is in change, season to season, buds to flowers to seeds.ReplyDelete
In these gardens I designed for the Winter season even more so than the Summer because nine months out of the year here, things are pretty bare. It is the structure of plants and art and stone that is seen most of the year so that is how I designed the spaces. Summer flowers become a bonus for me. Jack
Interesting concept, dominion. I think it may have to do with the difference in our ages. I remember, in our first house, where we lived 20 years, I used to imagine I'd grow old and die there. Then we sold that house (so much for that fantasy) and got a country house, and I started a garden. Then we moved to Federal Twist and I started another garden. Now I think of this place as on loan, garden and all. Though I have a garden here, it certainly isn't forever. So I don't feel a sense of dominion, as I once did, but I certainly agree with you in saying the life that animates it is from beyond, especially when I see the low sun striking fire in the garden grasses.ReplyDelete
Have only just discovered your blog and am enjoying it, thank you. I wonder if, rather than dominion, it's more stewardship that we practise in our gardens? All the best from Ireland.ReplyDelete
Harrison and his team converted our backyard from a slushy unusable sloping block into a completely usable and well drained pleasure. A major reconstruction over 2 months that involved excavation, retaining walls, decking, pergola, paving, fencing, turfing and garden preparation. For more detail's about landscaping northern beaches contact with harrisons landscaping.ReplyDelete
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