Throughout the journey, as both industry insider and emotional outsider, I’ve occasionally turned inward as I had from the beginning. I wondered: had those original childhood instincts which first connected me to the Earth and all that grows, then later affirmed me, somehow led me astray? How did I wind up in this strange and sometimes dangerous world of commercial Horticulture – aching with environmental woes, saddled with chemical dependency, littered with a hopelessly confusing nomenclature, peppered with profiteers and narcissists, mired in financial scandal, and subverted by bloodthirsty regimes? Could I somehow recover the affirmation I thought I’d lost, or was it in front of me all along?
Just like everything
The garden waits for spring
Just like everything
We don’t look back we don’t know where we’ve been
Just then looking down
Feet planted in the ground
Just then standing there I found a secret I could never share
That day breaking free I saw my future starin’ back at me
– David Stephens, “The Garden”
Within the Horticulture industry I’ve found occasional bland (or even volatile) professionals and well-meaning (but mediocre) educators who view gardening, and nature as a whole, through the narrow perspective of ID textbooks on woody plants, perennials, and so on. Barely able to rely upon their own inertia to learn by practice, trial, and blunder (which is how I as a gardener learn best), these sorts of people appear to me, at best, loosely connected. Whether in my formal schooling or my professional work, recurrent acquaintance with an embarrassment of these dissociates rings a profound and universal truth: all that is green is not necessarily loving and giving. Sometimes – perhaps more than in other more snugly distilled, tightly regulated professions – passive-aggressive or even abusive behaviors are not just tolerated but expected.
Fortunately, among those who view the garden as their home, or their calling – there are many others, sometimes whose education is self-taught, who take the gifts they are given and nurture them fully. In doing so, they unquestionably broaden their understanding not only of the smallest garden or tiniest seedling, but also of the amazing natural world around them – in the process giving generously to others.
By no means do I profess knowledge of a magical worldview that applies universally to all childhood gardeners grown to adulthood funneled through chaos, or to even a few. As this exploration was first set aside, I had to get far more personal – with myself. I needed to pass through several stages of realization and in the process weather a considerable number of life’s challenges. Were it not for the close comfort of the garden, grounding my connection to the Earthly home, these sensations that propel me back in time – sometimes sprung upon me without warning like the myriad, pernicious spines of a thistle – would be far more frightening indeed.
And what of those sensations – sound, touch, and smell – which stirred this reminiscence in the first place? After all, it’s late July. Here in the upper Midwest the incessant drone of the annual – or dog-day – cicada (Tibecen canicularis) is deafening. The thick muggy air hangs dense across the land like an impenetrable iron wall. And that smell – a strange, intoxicating, yet subtly disgusting blend of Noxzema® and BO – could only mean one thing: the Stargazer lilies are in bloom!