Letter to Monty Don 48

Dear Monty,

I know that despite these rambles being addressed to you, they never reach your eyes or heart, but this question is most certainly directed to you :

Can nature be ugly ?

I am pondering this question sitting in my cupboard of a 'studio' where I am putting the finishing touches to paintings of  British native orchids, pollinators and butterflies for an exhibition next weekend.


Now I believe that you understand perfectly well the response you may get when you make statements on GW - including the one about spent buddleja flowers being 'ugly'. I too have always deadheaded my buddleja for the same reason, and as you said to promote new flower spikes. But this ugliness is an intrinsic part of nature - it sets seed to create the next generation, the flowers last but for a few days.

Is this ugliness a kind of acknowledgement of the frailty of 'beauty' .... and the cutting off and tidying away a kind of denial ? ( Perhaps I think too much.)

I read this this week :

'The length of our days is seventy years - or eighty ; if we have the strength ; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow for they quickly pass, and we fly away.

Teach us to number our days aright that we may gain a heart of wisdom '

If we have the strength...that made me laugh, because it is so true. Wisdom is a beautiful thing, it acknowledges limitations.

I get caught up by the opinions of others about how gardens should be, but I know from listening to you talk about Longmeadow, that there is no real right or wrong way.

I live off a limited income (despite the NHS cutting nursing jobs to save money, we do not earn much )
and have to think very carefully before I invest in plants, which is why I am looking more and more at the wild flowers growing all around us at the abandoned coal tip. I wonder if my garden would remain a garden if I stopped spending money on it , and instead allowed it to mature as it is.

This is what it looked like this morning, but with the sound of sparrow song and the brook gushing torrents of overnight rain. Can I call it a garden?











                   Oh well back to thinking and pondering and painting, thank God for bank holidays.



Paul.

( The exhibition is at the www.gardenofwales.org.uk on the 1st - 2nd Sept as part of the Orchid Festival. Come and buy some paintings.)

Comments

  1. Interesting question : can nature be ugly? I don't see why not, but of course it raises the issue of us and our perceptions of the world. That's where aesthetics reside.

    Good to hear your thoughtfulness again. Xxxxxxxx

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    1. Aesthetics are in the eye of the beholder...its taste again, and where do we get that from ? Anne it boggles my little mind.

      I hope you noticed the lack of !!!!!!!!

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    2. I am delighted by the abscence of !!!!!! And, yes, it is that perennial favourite, taste and discrimination rearing it's not so ugly head.....

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  2. The beauty or ugliness of things must surely be a subjective perception. Nature really works on 'fitness' - if one form of flower shape or bird's feather works to improve the chances of survival within the species then this trait is retained and amplified, regardless of what it looks like to outsiders. The issue comes when we use our knowledge and talents to force plants and animals to take on shapes and colours that confer no natural advantage, but which satisfy our perceptions. That these perceptions change with time ('fashion') helps to contribute to the extremes of appearance that some of these plants and animals display.
    So, I don't think nature can be ugly, but we can abuse nature to make its products ugly, and we can identify aspects of nature that do not conform to our perception of beauty. Just my thoughts...I blogged a piece on Ugly Plants a couple of years ago: http://paulridleydesign-paul.blogspot.co.uk/2010/05/ugly-plants.html - it doesn't add much, but you might like to cringe at the photos!

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    1. Wise reply Paul,(sorry for calling you by first name)it is an interesting thought that we are manipulators of nature, we have been manipulating in to a greater and greater extent as we have become more knowledgeable. I will have a look at the ugly plants. Thank you for your comment.

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  3. I've been reading Psalms for people who are ill. In fact, the 90th Psalm, so I was surprised to find part of it in your post. I do think nature can be ugly, at least from our limited perspective. The God in the 90th Psalm is rather terrifying in his power and anger and eternalness. His time scale dwarfs ours. It's all too much. The point I'm trying to make, I suppose, is that the terrifying God is ugly from the human (my) perspective, but he has other aspects. (Not that I even believe in God; I always dither over whether to make the "g" upper or lower case, so as not to be misunderstood.) I do think gardening is about the search for god. Good luck at the exhibition.

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    1. James,that is a very thoughtful reply. I have never before thought of God as being ugly but I see exactly what you mean, and from our perspective I agree he does appear ugly at times. I wholeheartedly believe that gardening is a search for god, even if we cannot see that it is. I just believe what it says somewhere else in the Bible that God has set eternity in the hearts of men and women, and it is this that drives us to create gardens, music, painting, writing etc.

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    2. As a non-believer it seems to me that the observable Universe alone is, in its original sense, 'awe-ful' - and it's terrifying immensity and complexity sufficiently mind-boggling to become intimidating if you allow it to do so. I don't think that makes it 'ugly' though - it's simply that we lack the tools to understand it, so perceive it as incomprehensible and therefore a potential threat. I would suggest that 'ugly' is a correlate of 'vindictive' in this sense, and I'm quite sure nature isn't the latter, even if a vengeful Old Testament God has such a tendency from time to time!

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    3. Yes, I agree vindictive is the wrong word to apply to the Universe. (I accept you don't believe) If God is who he says he is then he is outside of our sphere and is as intimidating as the universe for the same reason. Awe-ful is about right for both I think. I am amazed that talking about gardens takes us to these places...long may we continue to explore our universe. Thank you again.

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  4. Hello - found this blog via Anne Wareham on twitter. Lots of different interesting ideas. One thing: Time is more valuable to a garden than money, isn't it? Also, on beauty and the buddleia in particular: to me it is not a beautiful shrub and it makes no difference whether the flowers are spent or not. However, the butterflies in my garden like it more than anything else, so the buddleia stays.
    I have been thinking about how far a garden can go before it starts to look derelict (in my garden the buddleja doesn't help) and your post has galvanised me to write mine. Thank you.

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    1. Thank you for this comment, and hello to you too. You are right, time is more valuable to a garden than money, but I am so easily duped by advertising and the endless marketing we are bombarded with that I start to think otherwise.

      There has been an interesting debate with Monty Don on twitter.(as you mention in your blog)I believe there is an enjoyable tension in pulling a garden out dereliction, cutting and editing parts and allowing other parts to overflow. Perhaps it is the artist in me, but I see my garden as a kind of living sculpture.

      I think you may be the first person I have ever galvanised !

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  5. Hello
    I see from the above that you are finally getting noticed - if not by Monty. I hadn't realised you were back (so soon!), for which I am pleased. My thought is simply to say that yes, of course, what you have around your home is a garden. You are actively managing nature and I think in this domestic context, that makes what you are doing gardening and what you have made is a garden. It is not about money but about attention and activity.

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    1. Hello, yep didn't stay away for long! I have this compulsion to be alive and to make some noise while still being here.Can a garden that is domestic in scale be as soulful as a garden such as Veddw or any large garden ? It seems a more difficult task in a small space, I suppose that is where my question arose from, a kind of nagging doubt.

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