A garden as art: paint your own cornucopia

These do-it-yourself times have been called the age of the great handcrafts explosion. Among the handcrafts, you might consider gardening as one of the best, most essential, and necessary of all the things people work at with their hands.

Surprising as it may seem, gardening probably is as much of a craft, or even an art, as painting, pottery, knot -tying, sculpturing, and so on.

any craft or art demands certain skills and expertise from its practitioners to produce the desired results. Gardening is no exception. It will also need some basic requirements, such as a sustained penchant for work, as well as a deeply rooted love and respect for the living things of the earth.

Gardening can use everything you have to give it. There are times, of course , when the gardener, even as the artist, would gladly throw down his tools, turn his back on the whole bit, walk over into the green, grassy meadows of the next county, and never return to find out which of his enemies has won out: the slugs , bugs, gophers, grasshoppers, birds, squirrels, crab grass, or drought.

Yet, the next thing you know, the good gardener, also like the artist, will be back in there -- pulling weeds, tying up vines, inspecting whatever there is to inspect, grubbing in the soil. If everything cooperates, he may reap what he has sown, and he then will be seen joyfully hauling in the bountiful harvest.

Of course, there are as many differences between the garden and other crafts as there are similarities.

One thing the artist-turned-gardener is startled to observe is that plants, unlike objects in a painting, do not stand still. They are growing all the time -- or else they disappear. If you leave your painting and go away for a few days or a month, the objects on your canvas will be there -- just the way you left them -- when you get back. Not so the garden! It will have changed almost beyond belief.

Plants hardly out of the ground when you departed will have stretched up and flung out, living it up with frothy toppings of flowers or fruits. Beets and carrots may be fully developed and awaiting harvest.

And something else: Leeks, for example, could suddenly have produced tall, amazing seed stalks. Beautiful as these are, and much appreciated, the leeks are henceforth precluded from any more growth or usefulness.

Again, it may be that shifty, brash, ragged weeds will have sprung up out of all the pores of the earth, and the one row that you cherished as most likely to succeed has given up entirely and departed the garden. Or (perish the thought) the bugs may have moved in their legions, causing more or less complete devastation.

Bugs and other negative things come with neglect. Neglect is one of the worst enemies that can descend on the garden. True, the garden can stand some neglect some of the time, or neglect of this job while that one is being carried out, but continuous, chronic neglect means that the garden will most surely revert back to scrambled weeds, conventions of predatory insects, and widespread disaster.

A neighbor, observing how often she caught sight of me working in the garden in full view of her windows, once remarked: "You could spend all your time in the garden!"

Yes, you could, indeed. You could hardly give it too much care. There's an old warning that most artists have heard: "Stop working on it while you're ahead , before you spoil it!"

You can work early and late in the garden. There always seems to be something that needs you. While your painting is sitting there waiting for you to accumulate the inspiration to give it that spark of life, your garden is outrunning you with all kinds of life.

No matter what the joys or problems that appear from time to time, the gardener can sit down to reconnoiter, all the while looking expectantly ahead to another season.

That's the way it is with gardens as well as other crafts and most of the arts. They're built on work and hope -- just about as much of one as of the other.

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