Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Alone in a Garden

"It is a consoling thought that gardens and their laws of birth and death endure, while political crises and panaceas appear only to vanish." - Vida D. Scudder, "The Privilege of Age."

And so it is in the abandoned gardens of the Christchurch earthquake red zones.
As the powers-that-be in this broken city, bicker and fuss over "exciting future plans," once immaculately kept suburban gardens are bursting free of their restraints and cascading over walls and fences. 
Until they're bulldozed clear that is.

Once neatly-trimmed front lawns have taken on a life of their own and are welcoming back the small wild animals - the rabbits, ducks, the mice and hedgehogs - to live among their tall, wavering grasses.
Seed heads are tickling window panes; roses and pretty perennials are competing with thistles and dandelions on an equal footing; and front paths have vanished under the layers of foliage.

I've always loved gardens and gardening but in regularly visiting these now-abandoned neighbourhoods in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes, I have developed a new appreciation for the fact that we are only custodians of our spaces, not owners - that the living things in our gardens can only ever be 'managed.' And that once free of those managing hands, plants can show us a new and different beauty as they sprint away from our control.

As I walk these silent, lonely streets watching the demolition of homes and the destruction of gardens and family histories, I wonder why I keep coming back -- and back and back. I think it's because even in their dishevelment, or perhaps because of their dishevelment, the gardens still offer what they always did - a place to appreciate nature, to witness 'the passing of time,' a place to get lost in the reverie of suspended thought. 

I celebrate the freedom of the plants.
I delight in roses tumbling, unchallenged, across lawns and fences.
I like the sway of long grasses and their return to a 'grassland' state.
It's a form of natural anarchy.

And in a broken city bursting with new rules, regulations and prohibitions, I find that anarchy charming and freeing. I find solace and beauty in these overgrown places and I wish they could stay, unchallenged, to decline or to flourish in their own time.
But humans don't tolerate the unruliness of Nature very well.
They want to clip it, cut it, snip it, trim it, harness it, control it.

But Nature always fights back.
As Christchurch has discovered.


Special K said...

Profound as always, Adrienne. Last time I was in Chch, my mother and I took a drive down Avonside Drive. I stopped and photographed some houses with their newly rambunctious gardens. I wondered about the plants and the people who nurtured them. I had an itch to take cuttings so some of the plants, the ones that were being swamped by weeds, could lead a rather different life with me in Wellington. I thought of it as a way of honouring the people who loved that garden once. But I also thought it stepped over the line into stealing, as if taking a trophy or souvenir like soldiers did at the end of WW2. What do you think?

Adrienne Rewi said...

Taking a cutting from a deserted earthquake garden is a lovely idea - and some people (other than original owners) are doing just that - ILLEGALLY. All paid out Red Zone houses are now the property of the NZ Giovernment and you can receive hefty fines if caught entering the properties, more so stealing from them. But I do know a lot of owners have taken their favourite plants with them when they shifted out. Most owners I've spoken with have found it harder to leave the gardens than the houses.


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