A gentle plea for chaos

With promising signs of spring in the air, my yearning to be at work in the garden grows apace. Since the paths in the back garden are filled with water (during the day) and ice (at night), I am contenting myself with reading about gardens and enjoying the photographs my friend Nina is sending me from Sweden. (Snowdrop pic here is by Nina)

When I first began gardening seriously, I spent endless hours with my head buried in stacks of plant and landscaping books. I wanted to learn as much as I possibly could. I was on a fascinating quest … and one I suspect I will be on for the rest of my life.
Now I find myself gravitating toward books focussed less on the nitty gritty details of gardening and more on gardeners’ thoughts and inspirations. I love catching glimpses of what draws and moves them to devote so much of themselves to their gardens.

For several days now, I have been caught up in Mirabel Olsen’s enchanting world in A Gentle Plea for Chaos (1989, Bloomsbury). I would have loved walking alongside her in her English garden.

This book is divided into five sections detailing what the author calls the major aspects of her garden – trees, water, walls and climbers, roses and bulbs. The headings are really quite arbitrary and throughout the book, we are treated to the author’s delightful asides. They remind me of ambling down a path and coming across a wildflower that one stops to admire and comment on before continuing on with earlier thoughts.

Here is an example of one such stop on the path. While discussing the making of gardens through time, the author speaks of those brief, fleeting moments that make all the hard work so worth it.

Who hasn’t stood in their garden at some unexpected moment of the day, when perhaps the tension in the petals of a tree peony is almost a breath away from dissolving …. or when in a certain light there is an almost smoky aura given off by the mauve and white Japanese anemones, when black thunder clouds pass behind a laburnum tree in full flower?

Precision in gardening was of less importance to Olsen than coming across an impromptu flower self-seeding in an out-of-way corner. Throughout her book, Olsen makes the case for a bit of untidiness and random gardening. She fervently believes that gardeners should have the ‘freedom to loll’ and enjoy their gardens.

…for us, the unserious, the improper people, who plant and drift, who prune and amble, we fritter away little dollops of time in sitting about our gardens. Benches for sunrise, seats for contemplation, resting perches for the pure sublimity of smelling the evening air or merely ruminating about a distant shrub.

How could you not be drawn to Mirabel Olsen upon reading such lines? And while I would enjoy writing more about the discoveries I have made in this book, it is time to shut off the computer, give my big, brown dog a hug and journey into Olsen’s world of scented roses before I sleep.

8 thoughts on “A gentle plea for chaos

  1. I love the picture of your garden, and I am so happy whenever I see snowdrops (what a poetic name, isn’t it?). Here we call them perce-neige, as in “breaking though the snow”. When they show up, they tell everyone that spring is coming!

  2. Hi Kate! So happy to have you visit my blog yesterday.:) Your garden blog is beautiful. In fact…I’m sending your link on to a friend who is a master gardener.By the way…Lytton is a sweetie!

  3. I’m very interested in what you’ve written about the gardening books you’ve been reading. Perhaps you would like to join some of us garden bloggers in the Garden Blogger’s Book Club? We’ve been reading a book each month and then post reviews on our blogs. Here is a blog with links to all the posts. http://www.gardenbloggersbookclub.blogspot.comRight now for March we are reading Karel Capek’s “A Gardening Year”.

  4. Hi Kate. If you are hungry for flowers you must stop by my blog, I have been posting pictures of my daffodils, which are in splendid form right now.I love your snow picture, and I tried Thalictrum rochebruneanum a while ago in my garden. I think it was too wet where I planted it, it struggled and eventually succumbed. Of course, it also gets murderously hot here in august, that could have something to do with it. I must try the book you refer to here. Have you read Second Nature by Michael Pollan? It is a truly wonderful book about gardening. Another good one is People With Dirty Hands by Robin Chotzinoff. I’m sure that you don’t have enough to read. . .

  5. Smithereens – I love the name perce-neige. What a perfect description of these flowers. I loved checking out your art, Abbycreekart. Your Abby is beautiful. Carol – I will head over to the garden bloggers book club and begin reading the March selection. Thank you! As you can tell, I love reading books on gardening. And Healingmagichands, I visited your blog and loved the pics of your daffodils. They are beautiful. I have a hunch your Thalictrum probably baked in the heat. I planted one in my front flower garden and it withered … the July sun was just too hard on it. So now I just grow them in the back garden.

  6. I totally agree on a garden being a little untidy and random. I love a bit of chaos, wildness, and self sown flowers.

  7. The name of the book is familiar, Kate, but I’ve never read it… maybe that should be never read it yet, since the passages you quote make me think it would be worth tracking down. Just reading your post has made me miss the tree peony, Japanese anemones and snowdrops that grew in my former Illinois garden.Several of the previous selections for the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club were likewise less concerned with the ‘how to do it’ than with the ‘why we do it’. I’ve come to feel that garden information may be valuable, but garden philosophy is priceless. Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  8. This is the first garden book I ever read. It’s long been a favorite. How refreshing to find someone else who loves it.

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