Berkshire Garden Style: The Art and Science of Cultivating Beauty
In Japan, there is an ancient calendar that breaks the year into 72 seasons. Each microseason is about five days long and relates to natural phenomena occurring during that phase. December 27-31 is the season “deer shed antlers.” I love this calendar for the way it instructs us about what is happening in the natural world. It marries the human and the natural worlds by creating an abstract system of tracking time – a very human thing to do – via what is happening in the worlds and lifecycles of plants and other animals. [ I learned about the 72-season calendar from gardener Midori Shintani, who will give the annual winter lecture at the Berkshire Botanical Garden this year.]
The solstice sun beams low in the sky
For these next few days, I will be considering how deer shed antlers. It’s literal – that’s literally what deer are doing now – but it also feels weighted with metaphor. In this time of year, these shortest days, I shed weight. I go slowly. My work days are very short now. In shedding, we make space for something new to grow. As we tip into the new year, we start to think about new beginnings and fresh starts.
A newly potted paperwhite bursts out of dormancy
In the spirit of shedding and making space, I want to review this year’s blog posts and the ideas I’ve been trying to get at. I’ve been working on Berkshire Garden Style for a few years now, and I think I have developed a strong core of values and philosophies. I want to go over these ideas here, because in 2023 I want to dedicate more blog time to talking about the practical elements of BGS – what these philosophies look like when we’re digging in the soil and out there in the land.
A Viridissma Design: a layered planting of Blueberries, Narcissi,
and Fraises des Bois thriving in the Berkshire hills.
The focus of the blog posts this season really hinged on the question of people’s belonging in the natural landscape. In April, reflecting on the new stream that runs through my yard thanks to humans who engineered it, I thought about the way that natural features manipulated by humans get a bad rap.
The swale that keeps the basement dry is evermore valued
during the wild weather fluctuations.
There is a sense that this stream is lesser-than, because humans decided where part of it would flow (decidedly not through my basement).
In June, I revisited the binary by thinking about No Mow May, how people feel compelled to either cut their grass or let it grow, to either decide this is a weed or not, do I water every day or not? Is this plant good or bad? Etc. etc. My answer then – and now! – was “It depends.” An integral part of BGS is paying attention. There are no rote instructions for how to mulch or mow or weed – it depends on the plants, the weather, what the people in the space want.
What I call a "No Mow Lawn" during No Mow May
In my deep-dive of one of my favorite properties in July and August, I considered how people have shaped one particular plot of land. In October and November, I really took these ideas head-on, considering “funktional” design and how people’s necessities shape houses and land, warping in ways that are fascinating and, to me, beautiful.
The Potting Shed Garden
And, of course, in November’s post, “We are Wilder Than You Think,” I directly consider how humans are a part of wilderness.
A rich story image. It was the color moment that first struck me. and there's more ...
These hands of a steward and land-lover grasping the mug made
by brother's hands, the woven koozie CRAFTED FROM A FALLEN TREE.
The recurring theme through all of this writing and thinking is that people ARE nature. We are the wilderness. Nature that has been touched by our hands – as long as we have not been destructive, which, of course, we certainly can be – does not have to be seen as tainted, ruined.
An experimental zone at Viridissima Gardens
In some ways this might seem obvious. Horticulture is the art and science of cultivating beauty. To study plants on their own is botany, a science that describes what plants are and how they function. Human’s only role there is to name and define, to observe objectively.
You can’t have horticulture, however, without people. It is the practice of tending to plants – cutting, digging, moving, dividing, cross-breeding, under/over planting, letting them be. It’s the practice of cultivation, and Berkshire Garden Style is my philosophical attempt to explain how cultivating beauty requires a passion for place and how cultivating beautiful plants is a process that involves hard-working people.
Viridissima Gardeners belonging
Beauty is more than just the beautiful garden or flower at the end of a long line of work – it is that work: the dirty hands, the people who at the end of the day go home to lives elsewhere. The beauty is the setting surrounding that garden or beautiful flower: the house, its weathered wood, its flaking paint, the stack of firewood, the way the driveway winds around it. It’s the interplay between garden and yard and woods and all the scrubby, undefined in-betweens. It’s the birds and rabbits and insects who pass through and make use of it.
TO ME, THE FIREWOOD FITS.
I’d like to mention that I still don’t really know where I’m going with all of this or what the ultimate point of this blog is. But I know it’s my passion for place that drives me to keep thinking about all of this, as well as my desire to keep the conversation going. At risk of sounding like I’m just standing on my soapbox talking about myself and spouting my philosophies, I’m doing it for that reason: I want to keep that conversation alive. I want to keep figuring out how to define, protect, and support the BGS identity. And I want you – my community of gardeners and plant lovers – to join in the conversation.
I hope you stick with us next year, as I delve further into these ideas. As I shape them. As I groundtruth them by bringing you out into the landscapes, down into the dirt with me.