We had our beginning, as created beings, in a garden. So say the world’s great monotheistic religions, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Whether one views the Genesis narrative of Eden as metaphor or as history, an essential point remains the same: we choose to believe that we were intended for a place of beauty, bounty, and peace. Although now expelled from that garden, many if not most of us seem compelled to recapture at least some semblance of its beauty by placing around us plants as reminders of the tranquility and loveliness of that primal serenity. Sometime our garden is a single plant by the window; sometime it is a series of cultivated beds; sometime it is a rolling landscape carefully laid out for vistas, rooms, and a surprise around the bend in the path. But it is always pleasant to look at, and growing, and ours to care for.
A designated space with plantings to be cared for, to be cultivated, is a fundamental difference between a garden and a natural area of plants and trees. Deliberate cultivation, a designated space, a design for planting, and a plan for delightful viewing are hallmarks of “the garden.” Our longing to create this calculated beauty with florae seems to have deep symbolic and cultural roots in world societies. Certainly, the garden has been a vital metaphor in religion, literature, and other arts in Western culture since the Middle Ages. I am referring to the residential, landscape, or botanical garden, of course, and not the vegetable garden because what I want to focus on in this site is not the consumable benefits planting, but the aesthetic pleasures their placement and their variety in texture, size, and color offer to our viewing. Gardens are designed to be enjoyed, to be seen, to be sites—or sights—of peace and pleasure. But, they are also designed to highlight a demarcation between what we have domesticated and cultivated, and what remains untamed in Nature.
Outside the garden lies Nature undisciplined by the human hand; in contemporary society outside the garden lies the detritus of industrialization, stress, animosity, poverty of potential, poverty of spirit. Writing this, I am reminded of the 1969 Joni Mitchell song, “Woodstock.” It brings together two things I’ve been writing about here: the desire for a serene place in the middle of a hectic world, the longing to “lose the smog,” to escape being “a cog in something turning,” and a belief that we were meant for serenity and harmony, that “We are stardust / We are golden / And we’ve got to get ourselves / Back to the garden.”
The idea of the garden and the desire to carve out a controlled, aesthetic space in the midst of the uncontrollable conditions outside the garden are underlying concerns of this site, but its primary purpose is to share the beauty and abundance of actual gardens—especially gardens in Alabama and international gardens I’ve had the pleasure of visiting in other places. Whether referring to pots on a back porch, a meticulously designed perennial boarder, or an international showplace, this site is dedicated to the celebration of the creation we fell into—and to our desire to cultivate, collect, catalog, and control it.
© Susan K. Hagen and After Eden, 2017