On snowy days like today (mid-February) I feel particularly fortunate that in my library I also have a few books on gardens; here is one I would like to share one with you: Gardens, An Essay on the Human Condition, written by Robert Pogue Harrison (University of Chicago Press). Harrison explores the many aspects of gardens, our relationship with them on a personal level, and their importance to human well-being in general. His citations run from the ancient--Genesis, The Epic of Gilgamesh, the Odyssey and Epicurus, to Dante, Boccaccio, and then on to T. S. Eliot, Camus, and Karel Capek, with lots of stops along the way. It is an excellent read, at times intellectually challenging (as it can get a bit deep), but most rewarding.
Harrison covers a wide range of themes; a favorite one is how he characterizes a garden: as “a still point in a turning world,” a place of “sanctuary from the frenzy and tumult of history, a sanctuary as distinct from a shelter,” etc. He points out that throughout literature the garden has often been viewed as a paradise or at least something akin to Paradise. In fact, the very word “paradise” comes from an ancient Persian term referring to a walled, royal garden. All of which leads him to make the point that, while gardens exist in our mythology as occurring in a sort of natural state, in reality they are anything but “natural;” rather, they stand as intersections between humanity and nature. He puts an even finer point to it with the statement that, “human gardens do not, as we hear so often, bring order to nature; rather they give order to our relation to nature.” To me, this notion validates everything that Bedrock Gardens represents and offers to the casual visitor as well as to those more deeply involved in its flourishing.
And that point gives rise to another theme that receives significant attention in the book: the role of the gardener, not only essential in creating and maintaining a garden, but also significant to civilization itself. The gardener nurtures not just some flowers or plants in a garden, but more importantly, nurtures something fragile and perishable and thus might be otherwise ephemeral. The gardener puts more into the earth than he or she takes out, and Harrison asserts this “putting in more” is indeed how civilization itself is built. Harrison also emphasizes the benefits the gardener receives by caring for the garden.
This last point leads me to that additional item I mentioned at the start for which I am thankful: our Hands in Dirt volunteers, without whom surely Bedrock’s attractiveness would be greatly diminished. Have you ever seen them working? Likely you have not as they operate during the week, when we have minimal visitors. I have been lucky enough to have been there on a couple of work days—I am reminded of Santa in The Night Before Christmas by how they “speak not a word but go straight to work.” These good people demonstrate a devotion and a meticulousness that is truly astounding.
So next time you visit, remember that great effort and care have gone into making Bedrock a special sanctuary—better yet, visit our website and see how you could get involved in the program. You will not just be weeding or planting a flower, you will be, in even a small way, building civilization. And you will be getting back much in return. In the meantime, I hope you get to read the book.
Marc W. Bono