water off an alchemilla leaf

as ray bradbury said, life is “trying things to see if they work.”

yesterday, i read a bit of michael pollan’s third book, second nature. subtitled a gardener’s education, it’s an observations/meditations collection with chapter titles like ‘nature abhors a garden’ and ‘weeds are us.’ the chapter i happened to read last night was ‘green thumb,’ and there was a passage i was delighted with:

observe the green thumb at work for a little while and you’ll notice how, in keeping with his preference for experience over abstraction, he approaches nature more like an artist than a scientist or engineer. he welcomes in his garden, not only the laws of nature, but the play of contingency, too. he’s open to happy accidents, more comfortable with cases than axioms, less inclined to analysis than to trial and error. confronted with a problem–what shall he plant under the clematis jackmanii?–he tries this or that, sees what happens, then tries something else.

without revealing the man behind the curtain, i will say this…there is a lot of trying things to see if they work, a lot of trial and error, and a lot of happy accidents. but such is life, as well.
say you have always wanted to move to hawaii. you read the book, ‘so, you think you want to live in hawaii,’ and still want to live in hawaii. you move to hawaii. and then you realize you might not want to live in hawaii…
similar, though certainly not as dramatic is planting lobelia in your shade bed on the north side of the house for a bit of color in the border. it looks beautiful the day you plant, then ceases to flower, and just doesn’t make it. maybe next, you try it in the east-facing bed that gets sun until noon. it’s happy. you’re happy. and now, you know a little more about lobelia on your particular property, in your town, in your state.

every year, you learn a little about what works and what doesn’t and you take it all with you in your brain’s garden file (which scientists have proved is actually shaped like a wheelbarrow, located somewhere between your cerebellum and thalumus.) then one beautiful summer’s evening, you’re hosting an east-facing dinner, when someone says, “i have never seen lobelia do so well! but, you do have that green thumb…” you can smile, and say, “i always wanted to live in hawaii…”


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