No 'English' roses please or why I prefer the jungle!
The blogs and comments I’ve read about people buying ‘English’ roses and other plants and wanting an English Cottage Garden really make me think about the obsession we often have with replicating things that we admire from elsewhere. Having grown up on the East Coast, I’ve observed there is a bit of an obsession with all things English, not that that is bad, but to me, personally, it gets a bit tiring. I can admire the image of an English garden, but I don’t want one. It seems to me to be too rigid.
Now that I live in Texas, I find that there is still that fascination with the English, but also a desire to copy the Mediterranean or Mexican – maybe it’s better to say, Spanish style colonial houses and gardens.
Having been born in El Salvador, and going back often, I can tell you we are a bit obsessed with American style plants and gardens (notice my mother’s stubborness in planting azaleas in a sub tropical climate!). It’s not as bad as trying to grow tulips in Houston, but still!
Of course in El Salvador gardens often seem rather “messy” by comparison. Take my grandfather’s farm. It has fruit trees, and coffee plants, and banana plants and now my father has planted noni, and God knows what else, and the plants have their own place yet at the same time, when you see them from afar, the whole thing appears chaotic, and in some ways it is. The coffee plants, after all, have to have shade, so they’re planted among taller trees, the fruit trees are mixed hapzardly, a mango tree next to an orange tree next to two ‘naranja lima’ trees, all planted about 38 years ago when we were born – because my grandfather wanted us, his grandchildren, to have fresh fruit. When I first saw an American farm in Virginia I was amazed at the orderliness of it. The same when I see pictures of garden estates in European countries, not only the UK but also France, Spain etc. It amazes me how the plants are put in orderly rows, in little squares and walkways etc. I admire it, yet something in me rebels against it.
Yet it is easy to feel that – especially when you come from the supposed “third world” – you must also be that neat and orderly in the garden. I was puzzled at the ‘messiness’ of my grandpa’s farm (even though I delighted in it, we used to walk around the farm and think it was always an adventure, you weren’t quite sure what you’d come across) until I read about the Native American tradition of “replicating” the jungle in their cultivated areas. The messiness was done on purpose!! aha!! There was a point to it, and it was to keep it as close to the natural jungle as possible but with the ability to harvest and to manipulate the plants to suit their needs. It all made sense. What’s trying for me is understanding why we do things because so much (especially in El Salvador) of the Native American culture has been lost – or rather not lost but modified and the reason for it has been left shrouded in mystery. We do things and we don’t know why.
When I first spoke of my container garden there was someone who wrote and said something to the effect of going from ‘concrete to jungle’ and that has stuck with me. I like the idea of an urban jungle. =)
Since I try to buy my plants as cheaply as possible, I’ve never bought an ‘English’ anything! My roses, cute ans they are, and as much of a headache as they give me, are ‘mutts’ – hybrids of who knows what parentage, and miniatures at that!
It’s too bad that nurseries and garden centers and catalogs are trying to cash in on the obsession a lot of people have with all things English.
- 8 May, 2008
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