A question of philosophy

rosefollyFebruary 27, 2014

In a discussion in another thread on whether to strip or not strip diseased leaves someone mentioned that her approach was a question of philosophy. It got me thinking. What else about one's approach to gardening was determined by closely held principles and beliefs, rather than mere practicality? For most of us I suspect the answer would be, quite a lot.

My own intention is to grow a garden that is compatible with the natural areas outside the fence in that it is not dependent on heavy chemical assistance, but still I am creating a distinctly artificial construct. It is a garden. It is definitely not a natural landscape, lovely though a natural landscape can be.

In fact I have planted a number of native trees and native flowering shrubs outside the fenced area to host birds and beneficial insects. It is my hope that these plants will be able to get by in drought years (or drought decades) without human assistance once they are established. Included in the planting scheme are multiple oaks, incense cedars, manzanitas, ceanothus, ribes, toyons, salvias, and assorted others. There are even a few highly drought tolerant non-native trees from similar climates elsewhere, Arizona cypress, Afghan pine, and deodar cedar being the ones that come to mind. Despite my including a few exotic trees, that area more closely replicates a natural landscape in plant material.

However inside the fence I deliberately planted a place apart from the world, my own private Eden of flowers and fragrance. I think of it as the real world manifestation of the world of my imagination. It may not be the most beautiful garden I have ever seen, but it is surely the one that holds my heart.


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Yes, absolutely. My philosophy is to grow as many of the old roses which survived in our garden from when they were originally planted by my DH's ancestors as I can. I have had to replace several so far with rooted cuttings of the original ones, but so far I have not actually lost any.

My philosophy also includes rooting very old roses from around our neighborhood and planting them. The ones I am talking about were/are growing in very old neglected gardens, gardens of homes which are empty and about to be torn down, etc.

The good news for me is that as all of these roses are survivors, they don't need much care at all to thrive.

Just thought of another part of my philosophy - to encourage birds & insects of all sorts (except mosquitoes & rose curculio beetles!), & tolerate other wildlife - I grow climbing roses so that they can escape the deer, for example, instead of trying to get rid of the deer.


    Bookmark   February 27, 2014 at 3:58PM
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Mendocino_Rose(z8 N CA.)

I had to think about this. There is really nothing practical about my garden. What is my philosophy? A love of beauty, joy, exuberance, passion. There is a belief of carrying on to the hilt without a care for tomorrow, while understanding and accepting that it could also all end tomorrow.
Paula, you should read On the Making of Gardens by Sir George Sitwell. Once you get past what he doesn't like into what inspires him it is quite remarkable. I mostly agree with him.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2014 at 5:35PM
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seil zone 6b MI

I don't know that I have a philosophy. I just plant things that I come across that appeal to me. I like lots of color and plants that get big and blousy as opposed to the usual suburban gardens where everything is precisely manicured in tight rows like soldiers and all neatly fenced and edged. My garden spills out and flows over and into everything and I like it that way. I do have some hard scape but even that is mostly there only to hold the soil from washing out. I am not totally opposed to a few chemicals now and then but do really try hard not to use them if at all possible. I like my messy garden, lol!

    Bookmark   February 27, 2014 at 6:30PM
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ingrid_vc(Z10 SoCal)

I don't know whether wanting to surround myself with beauty is a philosophy but it's been a guiding principle for me inside my house and in the garden. Inside my main focus has been my collection of antique Chinese porcelain and outside of course it's antique roses. I think both appeal to me not only in terms of aesthetics but also because they give me the opportunity to delve deeply into a subject and keep learning more and more about it. It's not just a plant or a vase, but an intimate connection with history and art, and a way to connect with something that is greater than me and will enrich my life experience. The garden is a bridge to nature, but it is also an entity over which I can exercise some control and strive to make it uniquely mine. My goal, which I know I will never completely realize, is to make this an earthly paradise, not only for me but for everything that lives here.


    Bookmark   February 27, 2014 at 7:01PM
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Some beautiful thoughts here-----Ingrid---I will just "ditto" what you said---Thank You


    Bookmark   February 27, 2014 at 7:10PM
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rideauroselad E.Ont4b

What an intriguing subject for a post. I had to think about this as well. I read a lot of philosophy, but thought that prior to posting, perhaps a definition of the word would be helpful in framing my response. So here is the definition of philosophy from the Meriam Webster Dictionary:

: the study of ideas about knowledge, truth, the nature and meaning of life, etc.

: a particular set of ideas about knowledge, truth, the nature and meaning of life, etc.

: a set of ideas about how to do something or how to live

So with these ideas as a beginning; my garden is actually a very philosophical place. It is where I used to go after a hard day at work to relax, to ground myself and to reconnect with the real world, versus the world as constructed by human kind. A visit to my garden is a reality check. So while it is a place I have created, it is still a place that is not dominated by human kind. It is a place of plants, insects, plant pathogens, weather and life.

As Ingrid said, my garden is a bridge to nature and an aesthetic place that pleases me. And as Folly said, it is a construct heavily dependant on me; particularly with respect to summer care, but in my case also winter protection. That said it is still a far more natural place than the office, or inside the house for that matter. It is a non-human place and a place where I can reflect, think and try to take my perceptions beyond the world of man in which, in my opinion, too many people in Western society are too wholly immersed.

My garden tells me that I am a part of it, it is a part of me and we are a part of the world. It is a direct contact with the natural world, the non-human world. It is a direct connection to the environment. It tells me that neither I nor my garden are separate from our environment and that I am connected to my environment and am in fact dependant on it.

So in summation my philosophy about my garden is that it is a place of beauty, peace, creativity, self expression, connection to the natural world, contemplation, reflection and grounding. A garden is a beautiful place, tend it with love.

Cheers, RRL

    Bookmark   February 27, 2014 at 8:35PM
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nippstress - zone 5 Nebraska

Is laziness a philosophy? (smile) According to RRL's definition, it's clearly a driving "set of ideas behind how to do something" for me in my yard. In other words, if it's too much like work, I'm not going to do it. I'd love to claim that my no-spray practices are entirely a philosophical decision of the balance of nature and finding a common space with humanity (and I certainly value that), but by far the driving force behind not spraying is laziness, and picking up anything mechanical is too much work.

Kidding aside though, there's something more to laziness as a shorthand for the better aspects of my philosophy of gardening as well. Gardening is supposed to be fun, a source of joy for me and others, a means to calm everything down, my "me" time, the only consistently "right brained" thing I do in my life, and something I want to share in simple and direct ways with others, all of which are connected with the good side of laziness in my world. I heard something on the radio the other day that we don't spend enough time being bored in our present culture, seeming to need to fill every possible waking moment with some form of stimulation (often electronic). Gardening is a way of choosing to be bored, or at least repetitive and introspective, and that's where a lot of creativity springs from when we're not trying too hard to think about everything. We rose gardeners in particular can have a hard time not overthinking things.

Speaking of overthinking things, one other type of philosophy that seems to drive many of us is a sense of rightness about colors and relationships between colors in the garden. Many folks will post wanting to find the right combination of colors to complement a particular rose, or avoid clashes, and that already reflects a philosophy that there are right and wrong, or at least better or worse colors and color combinations. I admit to doing a fair bit of pondering about what colors should go into which beds, and agonizing over which colors would clash next to each other so I guess at some level I value this, but it is clearly trumped by my laziness philosophy, since in practice there's tremendous variability in the rose colors in most beds and I tend in the long run to be a plopper who likes rose chaos as a finished product. Some color combinations I do actively avoid - hot pink next to russet would be one - but it has to be a truly awful color combination to overcome the laziness factor and make me move it. More likely, I'll use a contrast as an excuse to put a neutral rose in between them and therefore have an excuse to buy more roses (bwa-ha-ha).

Yep, I sure hope "more is better" is a legitimate rose philosophy, as opposed to a disease, since I'd like to claim that one as an asset too. Related to that, I think we differ among each other in philosophical approaches to repetition of colors/themes/roses in our gardens vs. as much variety as possible, and I clearly place myself in the second camp there.

Great topic and great responses - all thought provoking!


    Bookmark   February 27, 2014 at 9:02PM
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I came across a book one time that described how gardens in the European middle ages and in the Arabic traditions were influenced by the description of Eden, the earthly paradise garden. It had four rivers flowing from it and so most gardens included a water feature. Walled gardens existed in ancient times but since paradise was an enclosed space, most gardens were enclosed by a wall or hedge. Certain plants that had connections to holy writings were included. Grapes were a feature of most gardens designed this way. Other important fruits were figs and pomegranites. The rose was another symbolic plant.

I like the Getty Villa's recreation of classical roman gardens. Early gardens with strong geometry feel restful. The repeating plants and shapes is nice. Especially with repeating columns or strong architectural features, a geometric garden is graceful and elegant. It takes discipline and focus to do that.

Japanese gardens are carefully planned and have layers of meaning, especially the ones at the temples and shrines. I imagine that classical Chinese gardens are the same way.

My philosophy is to put each plant where it is happiest and also to give the fragrance roses the places where they can have the best perfume. When I see my plants, I don't think of them as symbols for something else as someone from the past might have done. But I do like the gardens that were created based on those ideas.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 12:55AM
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I like the Egyptian idea that a garden is part of the home, to be lived in and be beautiful and useful and a joy to the soul.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 1:08AM
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Good topic, Paula, thanks for starting a thread.
Many people have described the garden as intermediate between nature, with its beauty and softness but also its chaos and cruelty, and the artificial man-created world. I feel this; also, like Ingrid I dream of the earthly paradise, or in my case the Garden of Eden, with the sweet abandon of nature, but with some human intervention: soil improvement; non-native plants; paths and terracing.
My sister once described gardening as steering a go-cart down a hill, and this describes my gardening philosophy perfectly. Finding the plant and the site and digging the hole are the initial push to the go-cart; after that the plant is in charge, with me just mulching and clearing out the worst weeds now and then. The plants are doing most of the work, not the gardener. We've tossed around the word "lazy" jokingly, and I bet even the laziest gardeners among us do plenty of work. But it's true that I invest a good deal of thought in indentifying plants that I think will grow well, once established, with very little intervention. I suppose this is a part of my philosophy: I want to work with Nature, for the most part, not against her: I want a collaboration, not warfare. This is a philosophical stance: I suppose I feel like life is already too much of a struggle to want my garden to be a battlefield as well. But at the same time I know that a garden is an artificial creation that continues in life due to the labor of the gardener.
I want my garden to be generally a benign presence as far as the environment is concerned. There is my indulgence in those dubious non-native plants. I'm not sure how legitimate it is to introduce them. Otherwise, my standards are generally healthy ones: frugality with water, adding organic matter to the heavy clay, encouragement and introduction of native plants, planting trees. For organic amendment I recycle everything and look for local supplies. No spraying. I want a great variety of plants; I like the garden to be rather untidy, like a dishevelled nymph--ideally--with room for insects and animals, in relative ecological equilibrium.
How strange that I should have written so much and not yet said that my garden is my great and only work of art.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 1:21AM
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desertgarden561- Las Vegas Z9a

My gardening philosophy???? My choices are centered around what is appealing to me.

I believe that I am marching to my own drummer, but I am too anal for "winging it". I have researched plants, drawn up yard plans, have images of plant pairings on my monitor, and read books on the cultivation of roses so they can be healthy etc., but books that explain "how to pair, design", I do not read those or skip over the sections. My garden is a reflection of what I think works for the space, our lifestyle, plant pairings consistent with my taste, plus a couple of plants that are permanent residents because my hubby likes them. Despite all of this planning, I still find myself moving or digging up something here or there.

When visiting my local nursery, I walk the entire yard except for trees, looking at everything. If I am drawn to a plant, find it unusual or striking, I purchase it. So there are purchases based upon a whim.

So I guess my gardening philosophy is: to create a space filled with healthy, properly placed plants, that reflect a balance of definitive consistent likes, tempered by an openness to things that fall outside of my comfort zone or patterns, all designed to create beauty and perfume the air with wonderful fragrances. Gardening provides so much for me. From it I can derive a sense of calm, therapy, accomplishment, pride, while feeling that I am partaking in a hobby steeped in a history that is beneficial and needs to be preserved.

Oh, and I always have various plants that provided food for butterflies and little birds.

This post was edited by desertgarden561 on Fri, Feb 28, 14 at 19:59

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 7:51PM
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Campanula UK Z8

Not an effing clue - truly, I am up to my neck in it, proverbial creek without a paddle or guide. Although I planted a couple of hundred seedlings today, I could and would have had a terrible feeling of utter futility - all my hard work raising seedlings for them to vanish beneath a carpet of rampant weeds.....but for the snowdrops. I got my wood a year ago but apart from a couple of visits in January, I didn't really get there till May because we had to get the horsebox in a liveable condition.....so we never really saw the woods in February/March. This weekend though, we rocked up as usual only to be stopped in our tracks, absolutely staggered by sheets of pure white snowdrops....and not just any old galanthus either. After WW2, a recluse, Heyrick Greatorex, lived in a railway carriage in the next village, where he bred double galanthus....some of which are still extant, most famously Hippolyte and a couple of others with classical names. A few found their way to the edge of our woods and 50 years of utter neglect in fertile deep soil has led to numerous colonies of enormous purest white flowers, with flaring setals and frilly tepals, touched with the faintest green curlicues. Hundreds of them.
Consequently, I am putting my trust in life and nature and simply providing the merest nudge of diversity, introducing hardy natives and a few exotic naturalised bulbs (Crown Imperials, anemones, narcissi). I have faith that a three pronged approach (roots, shoots and bulbs - early bulbs, thick taprooted or stoloniferous perennials such as verbascum, poppies, campanula, phlox and hugely self-seeding plants such as meconopsis cambrica, wood asters, foxgloves)...will do most of it for me. I just have to give the little seedlings a head start and set them free, sit back and wait.
It could be a gigantic fail....but will have cost me only time and a few pounds for potting soil and a few seeds. Ultimately, my only philosophy is watch, wait and simply be there.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 2:57PM
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sandandsun(9a FL)

I think part of it lies in ontological philosophy.

Here is a link that might be useful: Ontology

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 5:09PM
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sandandsun(9a FL)

And part of it in aesthetics.

Here is a link that might be useful: Aesthetics

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 5:11PM
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sandandsun(9a FL)

And then there's environmental philosophy.

Here is a link that might be useful: Environmental philosophy

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 5:14PM
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nancylee2(Z10 Gaviota Coast)

Of our place, two acres are fenced for vegetable, fruit, and flower (mostly roses) gardens. The rest are for wildlife and cattle, the primary ag operation. I enjoy and am thankful with the preservation aspect of the majority, even those pesky deer who cross the boundary to annile the gardens. I am also peaceful within the confines of the fence with the fragrance, beauty, and bounty of the gardens.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 9:19PM
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nancylee2(Z10 Gaviota Coast)


This post was edited by nancylee2 on Sat, Mar 1, 14 at 21:21

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 9:20PM
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Kitty- I'm glad you mentioned the garden at the Getty Villa- that was the first garden that I really felt a connection to. In particular to the Roman kitchen garden but really, the whole thing just got to me somehow. I always loved flowers and plants but it wasn't until then that I started thinking about how they work as groups and with the surrounding features- both man- and nature-made.

As for my gardening philosophy- I've realized that if I love something I will do all the work it needs. And if I don't love it nothing can make me be better about it. Hence, the patch of weeds I pretend is a lawn vs. my phalaenopsis orchids that keep throwing out new leaves and roots but not yet flowers! Of course my roses are different, especially my lovely Mrs. Dudley Cross and my infuriatingly-unidentified little not-a-polyantha. For them the ratio of effort to reward is vanishingly small! I'm spoiled rotten when it comes to roses. They don't seem to need much of anything once they're in a good spot.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 9:57PM
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