The test drive

There’s more to a garden than we might first assume. During a recent visit to Boston, I had the pleasure of participating in some garden “shop talk” with others who have made gardens a part of their professional pursuits. Some of these people work hard to frame the public garden as a system of assets that require inputs. Some attempt to sum it up through mathematical systems. Still others design systems that are intended to explain the qualities of plants and gardens through repeatable patterns.

Regardless of how a person approaches the garden, everyone I know continues to make new discoveries. Looking for the secrets behind the garden gate is analogous to opening the hood of a new vehicle attempting to understand the secrets of that car. There’s no harm in looking at all the parts. However, it’s good to put some faith in all those parts and go for a test drive.

When I let myself enjoy the benefits of a garden, I am reminded that it’s truly the sum of the parts that creates the experience rather than the individual parts. Gardens, just like cars, work because the component parts interact in specific ways to provide the context for an experience that would otherwise not occur. One example that lives deep in my consciousness is the sense of amazement when I saw the stunning collection of azaleas at Bok Tower Gardens (azaleas are in the genus Rhododendron). In this garden, the experience is not simply one of appreciation for the beauty of the azalea plant but one of wonder, joy and inspiration found within a grove of azaleas not far from their one of a kind 205 ft. tall “singing tower”.This tower (a carillon) is a major component of Bok Tower Gardens and perhaps the focal point for many visitors.To visit the gardens when the azaleas are not in bloom is still a wonderful experience.However, visiting during the azalea bloom allows for a whole new perspective.

I encourage you to challenge yourself to “test drive” a public garden this year. Visit the garden without the pressure of a tight schedule. Relax. Reflect on your experience and what aspects of the garden spark your senses. Let go of some of the stresses you have felt and feel free to consider how that place can help you feel a bit more like you.

The secret is that it is not in the system of shapes and colors, or the placement of one component part or the other part. Instead, it’s the sum of the parts that creates unexpected moments.


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