Pleas for order and chaos

Looking over the plots just now, and more particularly my own, I feel moved to make a gentle plea for order.

Or, to put it another way, I am not Mirabel Osler.

Ms. Osler is not a fellow plotter. But she is a highly readable garden writer. Ten years ago a book by her came out that has become something of a classic. Two years previous to that she'd had a delightful essay published in that elevated magazine for literate gardeners, Hortus. This essay grew into the book. Both were called "A Gentle Plea for Chaos" (published in the United States by Arcade in 1998).

"The corrosive vice of trimness infiltrates everywhere," she exclaimed. "The very soul of a garden is shriveled by zealous regimentation," she cried.

Men, she darkly hinted, were the basic culprits, guilty of "antiseptic tidiness." They were "preoccupied with flower-bed edges cut with the precision of a prewar haircut."

In all this "mania for neatness," she inquired, "Where is lure? And where, alas, is seduction and gooseflesh on the arms?"

Well! All I can say, as a mere male, is: Take a train to Glasgow, Mirabel, and visit my plot. I have lure and seduction and gooseflesh in superabundance, rampantly, prodigally and profusely.

"Lush" is what the Visiting Artist called my autumn plot. A euphemism, perhaps, for "over the top." Everything is exceeding itself. The cosmos have grown into a green and feathery Great Wall of China, casting into unfathomable shadow and invisibility the row of leeks in front and of chard behind. One whole length of path has disappeared under a boisterous ocean of borage breaking over it from one side and an undercurrent of serpentine and seaweedy strawberry runners from the other.

If the lady wants chaos, I can give her chaos.

An American visitor to the plot last year, who is more used to ranches the size of Britain than to modest vegetable plots measuring 60 feet by 30, surprised me by her enthusiasm for the whole idea of community gardening.

Later, her letter contained a footnote. It suggested that I should allow a little wildness to enjoy itself at the far end of my plot. This made me smile a bit ruefully. It wasn't so much a matter of my giving permission for wildness there to flourish. It was a matter of not being able to prevent it. On its own terms, it was already an impossible success.

But I knew what she meant. It was another gentle plea for chaos. Let nature have her way!

There is, I have to say, a strange thing about strawberries. They lack common sense. The conventional analogy used to describe a superfluity of family is the rabbit. We talk of "breeding like rabbits." We should say "strawberries."

Stinting is not part of their vocabulary. In a very few months, my strawberry bed, quite well organized as it was, has become a multidimensional havoc, an inextricable pandemonium of stringy, interwoven runners.

Every few inches, the strawberry plants sprout roots. They don't care where. They even grow in the middle of one another.

Ok. so whatever it may signify concerning the failings of my gender, or my overenthusiasm for the trimming game, I just had a morning of sheer pleasure savaging these runners, clipping and snipping and slicing them until, at last, I rediscovered the original plants and could give them some air.

Not exactly a "gentle plea for order," now I come to think of it. More of a selective slaughter. Quite wonderful!

*A weekly series about a municipal garden in Glasgow, Scotland.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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