Kitchen Window

Nostalgic Sentimentality
in the Garden

"Your garden will reveal yourself."

-Henry Mitchell
(1923-1993)


Because of this website, I often get e-mails from people who either thought paghat.com was a nursery & wanted to buy from me a plant I discussed, or who are hoping I will send them seeds or cuttings from my garden, or most common of all, people sweetly wanting to share with me emotional feelings about certain plants they found me praising.

My own feelings while roaming amidst or caring for or sitting between plants are very emotional, & I've sometimes tried to figure out where this emotion comes from. A nostalgia for a lost connection with our primitive selves who in a past era lived better integrated into nature? Merely an aesthetic response to things that are incredibly beautiful? A conscious or subconscious desire to find the Divine in Nature?

People often associate plants with lost parents or grandparents, & place in their gardens flowers that were the favorites of vanished loved ones. For one reason or another, there's something deeply spiritual going on, something at a very basic (instinctual?) level which sees the cycle of life & death in the garden & associates that with our own lives & deaths & possible survival into future lives or afterlife.

From the number of letters I've gotten with tales of the gardens & individual plants of childhood, I think the largest part of this spiritual response to gardens & gardening originates in early imprinting of what must have been the very first beautiful things we ever saw in the world around us -- plus, where blossoms are concerned, our first encounter with the ephemerality of all things, what in Buddhism the Japanese call mono-no-aware, "the tragedy of things," a transience which is also the essence of all awesome beauty.

The environments we create for ourselves indoors don't seem to have quite this same lifelong emotional complexity. Do we need a davenport like grandma's? Does the wallpaper have to be the same as in our personal bedroom when we were small? Are we nostalgic for the same bathroom tiles or kitchen linoleum of the places wherein we learned to crawl, then stand? Well, maybe a bit -- I have very emotional responses when I see long thickly built folksy kitchen tables like my great-grandma's, & something as horrible to eat as fried corn mush tastes wonderful because grandma used to make it.

But for me, to great extent, the more inexplicable & more powerful nostalgia arises from a rugged old Granny Smith apple tree similar to the one my granny Elva planted when she was newly married & which was a sprawling huge thing when great-grandchildren came along. Or a mountain ash like the one all the children climbed in her front yard. Or a strawberry patch reminiscent of grampa's strawberry field before he turned it into cornrows of dahlias. Even the odor of leaf-litter or a decaying stump pulls at the heartstrings in ways the odor of grandma's witch hazel body splash or grandpa's Old Spice can never quite equal.

Nostalgia & sentiment for people & relations, one would suppose, should have to do more with the color of their clothes, the odors inside their houses, the songs they hummed to themselves & we learned from them.... Certainly nostalgia has its power in all these things, but for many of us the deepest feelings are just slightly aside from the interior world of the dwellings & relationships of childhood, & is more to be found outside, in the garden.

It doesn't even have to be the same plants, as I think the nostalgia goes so far back it predates our very births, & really is about that lost & purer connection to nature, which would include to family. Perhaps it is a nostalgia for a syrupy Rockwellian fantasy of things that never were, of promises that were abroad in a culture so shattered those promises never had a chance of being kept -- a nostalgia for our own individual innocences & our hopeful beliefs in a world we were once able to view naively with knowledge of fewer tragedies.

I might feel a bit weird for my own welling emotionalism while in the garden if not for those emails received from so many people who seem to have the same emotional response to shrubs & trees & flowers.

   



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