Friday, October 19, 2012

Gardeners Will Garden... Regardless of Circumstance


The urge to dig in the soil and plant a seed is as old as civilized mankind for the thrill of watching a seedling emerge and reach fruition is unsurpassed. Every nation has appropriated sites for carefully tended public grounds, and their continued popularity is a testament to our love affair with gardens. According to space and circumstance gardens may be found on grand estates, in tiny cottage plots, or even in cheerful window boxes spilling with blooms. Each provide a living testament to our desire to nurture and surround ourselves with natural beauty.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon built by King Nebuchadnezzar II around 600 BC were considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World… quite an honor for a garden. Many royal gardens in Europe have been cherished for generations and Prince Charles of Britain has restored many while pressing a national gardening agenda. Our own Thomas Jefferson was more pleased with his gardening innovations at Monticello than all of his diplomatic successes and even his Presidency. He avidly collected seeds, cuttings, and plants from his travels, bringing them home and carefully documenting their progress and success or failure. We have him to thank for introducing many of the species we now consider standard.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the cramped and simple gardens belonging to poor laborers and factory workers in Europe were the birthplace of florist’s flowers as we now know them. A lovely example is the magnificent Carnation, once a quarter sized Dianthus, who grew to the proportions we now recognize as standard. Petals were doubled and redoubled as enthusiastic breeders toiled in their tiny spaces after working long hours at grueling jobs. Their joy is apparent in the creations they have bequeathed us and we are grateful for their efforts.

Much of the hybridization we enjoy today occurred in the back yard Victory Gardens of WWII. At President Roosevelt’s request, everyone in the nation was asked to plant a garden to allow our surplus food to be sent to overseas to our troops. This program was enthusiastically adopted and petunias and marigolds were replaced by vegetables in an astonishing national effort. Most of the fresh produce consumed by the nation was grown in small garden plots and the success of this program remains unsurpassed today.

The Berlin Wall fell in 1990 and former Communist countries were opened to the West for the first time in decades. The horticultural community was stunned at the advanced plant breeding that had occurred in impossible and suppressed conditions behind the Iron Curtain. With no laboratories, no conservatories, and little money, gardeners had persevered in their efforts to advance and improve many species and were honored by a grateful horticultural community.

The realization that gardeners will garden regardless of hardship or circumstance is comforting. We are called to the soil for there is perpetual harmony in gardening and it knows no boundaries.