Tuesday, March 16, 2010


I am too migratory to be a good gardener. Too mobile.
My friend Jon Dove, an eternal inspiration, knows how to stay put, focus his energies. He prefers to. Actually Jon has 3 gardens. His home garden which he has tended for over 24 years, his one client’s garden which he has tended 10 years and a new rental property which he has tended for about 4 years now. In the 24 years we’ve been friends I have had my hands in more gardens than I can count. I lack his stick-to-it-iveness.
I am much more nomadic. Truly of my grandfather’s genes, who was also a gardener. From his birth in Brazil he moved constantly. To Canada, to Paraguay, to the U.S. where he moved his young and growing family from Maryland to Minnesota to Texas to Wisconsin to Montana, back to Wisconsin, with side trips without family to Arizona and Washington. I’m sure I’ve missed some stops and have the order all mixed up, but you get my drift. He did slow down with age, spent his last years in Wisconsin in various trailers and trailer parks always on the verge of moving on, which he finally did. I’m sure he gave me my first understanding of impermanence.
In the garden yesterday, someone’s garden not my own, just a place I landed, I watched a flock of robins leave a dogwood in a whistling chatter, they flew over roof tops and property lines as if they didn’t exist. I flew myself with them, if only with my eyes, until they were out of sight. I realized how little these boundaried gardens appeal to me. They are merely stop overs on a flight. And if I can imagine my life ending I see it as a drop in mid-flight. Metaphorically of course, I don’t want to go down in a plane. Or die behind a mower like my friend Jon swears he will.
I am poised on a branch again. Ready to take flight. I’m heading back to Italy and il eremo di Santa Caterina. You can see in the bird’s-eye-view of the garden above the stone and chain-link boundaries there. Yet the garden is undeniably only part of a bigger picture including the mountain, the sea and the sky. This is always the gardener’s challenge to be inclusive. Most gardeners I know are actually rather reclusive, or at least enjoy a good amount of time alone, a property line marked by a fence, a hedge or a wall. It is these ideas of enclosure and inclusion I will be facing there. How to bring a broader community of gardeners, students and visitors to this place. How to represent the diverse flora of the Tuscan Archipelago in the limited space allowed. And to do it aesthetically.
I will meet with friends: artists, gardeners, botanists and even the founder, Hans Georg Berger during my travels which will bounce from Pisa to Elba to Florence and Berlin, before a short day in London on my flight home. But there is one particular friend I am looking forward to seeing again, pettirosso, a small bird the English call robin red breast, though it is more closely related to our bluebirds than our robin, which is akin to their blackbird. You know, “blackbird singing in the dead of night.”
Pettirosso doesn’t sing at night, but he gets up awfully early. The Italians call pettirosso, il amico del agricoltore, the farmer’s friend. Maybe because he wakes them. Maybe because he loves the worms and insects they turn up in their labors. When I made a longer stay at il eremo years ago. I relied on this little bird's friendship, as he followed me around the garden, searching the soil I disturbed for treats, he thanked me with the his illustrious song. Or so I imagined.
I imagine he will inspire me again to sing with every feather that allows me to take this flight. And sing joyfully.