The Edible Explorer: godwottery or not

Photos courtesy of Doreen Howard.
Windmills, Holsteins, gazing balls, wishing wells – this Wisconsin yard has all the basic Midwest godwottery components.

Because my landscape brims with bulbs, flowering shrubs, annuals, and successive-blooming perennials that provide color all season, I tart up the vegetable and herb garden to match. Leftover annuals and godwottery migrate into beds of cucumbers, cabbages, tomatoes, and peppers.

I think it is godwottery, but that’s up for debate.

Godwottery is defined as “a highly romantic, exaggeratedly elaborate garden usually composed of bizarrely incompatible plants and objects.” Another definition of the word is “affected, archaic language," of which I am assuredly culpable.

Creeping lavender thyme hosts dollhouse park benches and tiny flower pots, windsocks flap from trellises, and scarecrows peek through cucumber vines in my edible garden. And, I admit to a dozen garden gnomes (gifts, I swear!) that inhabit a flowering shrub border. (See Photos 2 and 3 above.)

I thought my decorations qualified as godwottery until I started exploring city streets and rural roads across the Midwest.  Displays such as plaster Holsteins with Christmas wreaths around their necks, Pepto-Bismol-pink wishing wells, iron bedsteads packed with pansies, and truck tires sprouting purple coneflowers and goldenrod are everywhere! (See Photo No. 1 above.)

I’m obviously an amateur.

Decades spent in Texas taught me that Southerners are fond of the unusual and incompatible in their gardens.  Century-old homes with peeling paint surrounded by packed red dirt instead of lawn might have an old toilet that outlived its usefulness indoors in a place of honor near the porch. Packed with pink portulaca and tie-dye-blue morning glories, the porcelain throne has the advantage of built-in drainage.

Mansions in Preston Hollow, a Dallas suburb where past presidents live, gild their lawns with four-tier Italianate fountains and privet hedges sculpted into words like  “Howdy!”

Those are the sedate displays.In surrounding subdivisions, common landscaping includes Dallas Cowboys banners atop hot-pink crape myrtle bushes and eight-foot Butterfly (Rosa chinensis 'Mutabilis') rosebushes mulched with an assortment of half-buried car parts. Transmissions and anything chrome are popular choices.

Felder Rushing, the horticultural mouth of the South, chronicles godwottery and its historical significance better than anyone. His Jackson, Miss., yard is filled with whimsical examples. Click here to see.

Bottle trees like the one in Rushing’s garden are an integral part of traditional Southern gardening. Their origin can be traced back to Africa where the belief was that bottles suspended in trees attracted evil spirits when the sun glistened through the glass, trapping the spirits in the bottles.

In the US, slaves rummaged through dump sites to find colored glass bottles and stuck them on the branches of dead trees near ramshackle shacks in which they lived throughout the Old South. (Click here for a more detailed history.)

Godwottery or not, bottle trees, just like my vegetable garden gildings, are expressions of how people enhance nature’s beauty and purpose.

Perhaps mainstream society labels it bizarre or gauche, but godwottery has its place in your garden and mine. So put a gnome among the tomatoes or prune an overgrown shrub to resemble a dragon. I’m hitting all the garage sales next weekend looking for a Holstein!

Editor’s note: To read more by Doreen, who writes the Edible Explorer posts for Diggin' It, see our blog archive. For more gardening at the Monitor, click on our main gardening page. Or our RSS feed.

You may also want to visit Gardening With the Monitor on Flickr. Join the group (it’s free) and upload your garden photos — and possibly win a prize. (The next contest begins net week.)  Join the discussions and get answers to your gardening questions.

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