Figgy logic

A meet­ing of minds prompts some gar­den-va­ri­ety philosophis­ing.

HOME Magazine NZ - - Contents -

Dou­glas Lloyd Jenk­ins finds a fruity muse

Re­cently, I met up with a group of my one-time de­sign stu­dents, some of whom I haven’t seen for more than a decade. One of them, a young wo­man now pos­sessed of a slightly in­tim­i­dat­ing style, al­beit evolved from her younger self, gave me ini­tial cause to worry as she sat next to me at the end of a long ta­ble. What might we talk about af­ter the ini­tial en­quiries into health, cur­rent oc­cu­pa­tion and lo­ca­tion? Of course, we could have rev­elled in ‘re­mem­ber when’ but since we weren’t in the same class – in­stead I was her teacher – that dy­namic was a slightly chal­leng­ing one for a Sun­day af­ter­noon at the pub. I needn’t have wor­ried. Our con­ver­sa­tion quickly and nat­u­rally segued into what was re­ally top of both of our minds on a sum­mer day: our gar­dens. We got talk­ing about fig trees – of which we are both fans – and then the wider topic of gar­dens. I set­tled into a re­laxed af­ter­noon.

If all those years ago I’d tried to have that same con­ver­sa­tion with that then-sassy stu­dent, I doubt she’d have given me a se­cond. She would have rolled her eyes, all the time think­ing that what­ever hap­pened in her life she would never be that old. In my ex­pe­ri­ence, most young peo­ple are not much in­ter­ested in gar­den­ing. Chil­dren might do some­thing suc­cess­ful with radish seeds in school or a sunflower in the back gar­den, but there are only very few who get the whole gar­den­ing thing from the be­gin­ning.

HOME is a rare beast among ar­chi­tec­ture and nest­ing mag­a­zines in that, in the six or seven ti­tle changes since 1936, the term gar­den has stayed off the mast­head. I don’t think the mag­a­zine has ever had a ded­i­cated gar­den sec­tion. Al­though, from the very be­gin­ning, the gar­den has been part of the mag­a­zine’s con­tent. From for­mal gar­dens of the 1930s to the craze for rock gar­dens a decade later, and then the 1950s mod­ernism of Odo Strewe, the mag­a­zine cov­ered the de­vel­op­ment of the mod­ern gar­den. It was there for the English gar­den revival of the 1980s, which was – if you like – the gar­den’s post­mod­ern mo­ment, and also for the min­i­mal­ist craze and more re­cent vogue for na­tive gar­dens. There were even mo­men­tary ob­ses­sions with bon­sai and ike­bana – all in the pur­suit of the ul­ti­mate con­nec­tion be­tween home and gar­den style. They’re all there be­cause the tie be­tween home and gar­den is al­most un­break­able – a pair­ing like that of body and soul – so ob­vi­ous it of­ten goes un­men­tioned. As I write I won­der if the pres­ence of a gar­den might be the dif­fer­ence be­tween a house and an apart­ment, but I know a Welling­ton friend is work­ing away in the gar­den that sur­rounds her small block and I fondly re­call a Syd­ney friend whose tiny apart­ment was char­ac­terised by a gar­den of in­door or­chids. What ap­plies to houses ap­plies to apart­ments: in the tran­si­tion of ei­ther from a shell into a home, a gar­den of some type plays a big part. As we come to bet­ter un­der­stand the role of de­sign in our lives, we also recog­nise that a well-de­signed or well-con­sid­ered house is good for us. It nur­tures our vis­ual senses and pro­vides a place of rest from the in­creas­ingly com­plex and con­fronting world. Like a good home, a good gar­den of­fers a real al­ter­na­tive to the work en­vi­ron­ment in which we spend so much of our time.

Why then, if this is an al­ter­na­tive to the work en­vi­ron­ment, am I pre­pared to work so hard in the gar­den? High sum­mer, beau­ti­ful weather – I should be re­lax­ing, but I’m in the gar­den. I come in from a day’s gar­den­ing only be­cause it’s dark. I’ve worked harder and longer than I have in any day at ‘the of­fice’. I take one last walk around the gar­den. Al­though I can barely see in the near-dark, there’s a sense of sat­is­fac­tion that to­mor­row morn­ing it will be look­ing pretty good. When I re­tire from work – I hope my house will be fin­ished – it will only be so that I might spend my days in the gar­den.

It’s then that I re­alise why young peo­ple go through a phase be­tween radish seeds and home­own­er­ship in which they have lit­tle in­ter­est in gar­dens. They see them for what they are – hard work – and the thought of hav­ing to work for a liv­ing is hard enough with­out also know­ing you’re go­ing to have to work for mo­men­tary plea­sures such as a gar­den. Think­ing again about my Sun­day af­ter­noon con­ver­sa­tion at the pub, I re­alise it wasn’t my ex-stu­dent’s de­signer clothes, her smart, con­tem­po­rary jewellery, or the men­tion of kids left at home that made her seem grown up – but her de­vo­tion to fig trees. She now un­der­stood that de­sign was in part a process of think­ing, a con­sid­er­a­tion that might to be ap­plied to any task, and one that, with a lit­tle hard work, brings re­ward­ing re­sults.

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