Over on NPR’s Talking Plants, Ketzel Levine posted about my throwing in the towel as a
radical front-yard farmer and said this:
No doubt I particularly love her blog post
because I’m constantly having to defend my decision to have an
ornamental-only garden. Never mind that I don’t cook; people just seem
so disappointed that I don’t graze in my own garden and grow my own
Morally disappointed, that is.
I hear ya! But it’s not just edible gardeners expressing moral disappointment in us ornamental gardeners; don’t even get me started on the eco-restorationists accusing us of harming the environment with every nonnative hosta or sedum we grow. More than once have I seen our desire for beauty described as selfish or a product of our "vanity". That’s right. Planting this colorful hodgepodge in my hell strip was a vain and selfish act.
I asked in a comment on Ketzel’s post: What other forms of artistic expression besides gardening have to defend themselves from charges of selfishness or moral failing? Okay, probably ALL forms, at some time or other. Because there will always be people who, in their passion for their own cause, can’t see the validity of someone else’s passion. And there will always be people who don’t get the spiritual rewards of beauty and artistic expression, for both the creator and the viewer.
A friend recently wrote to tell me she was looking at photos of gardens the other day and "I had this moment when I gasped, audibly, at
the sheer beauty of what I was looking at. It felt a little like the rush of a
drug or a drink." See, the beauty of gardens can keep people off drugs and alcohol!
Honestly, it was like going to confession when I finally reported to you my failure as a vegetable gardener. What a load off. But the second best thing about writing that post was all the great suggestions for edibles that can be mixed in with my hodgepodge of plants, like lingonberries or a dwarf patio peach. And will I be trying some of them? Damn right. I’m inspired by your conviction that a garden can nourish both body and soul, and by Michele’s declaration of "pretty" as an essential ingredient in the Revolution. Right on, sister!
So while gardeners SEEM to have to make the choice
between ornamentals, edibles, and natives, it just
ain’t so. Vegetables can be grown cheek by jowl with ornamentals, and most native plant enthusiasts simply add them to their mix of healthy, beautiful plants from all over the world. And all types of gardeners can happily coexist because we share a love for growing plants in healthy ways.
A BETTER NAME, PLEASE?
But while we’re defending plants for their beauty (and never forgetting that they also clean the air and water and provide pollen for the bees) can we come up with a term that’s easier to defend than "ornamental", which conveys all the moral appeal of Carrie Bradshaw’s closet?