“Gardeners, I think, dream bigger dreams than emperors.”Mary Cantwell (1930-2000)
When I read the above quote from Mary Cantwell, an American journalist and novelist I believe, it certainly set my mind thinking. It reads simply, initially, and for me sparked inspirational thinking in relation to gardening projects or garden expansion. It made me think of growing more challenging, bigger and unique specimen plants, and it reminded me of my bucket list of gardens to visit in exotic, far-flung locations.
The quote could therefore be a simple, straight forward vehicle to encourage bigger thinking, like that expected of an emperor, but by an ordinary person. I guess it naturally sets a gardener’s station relatively low, but instantly lifts that station through some easy to achieve, bigger dreaming; and I have no worries where that’s concerned.
Nevertheless, whilst I doubt that Mary intended to speak directly to gardeners, the quote does take on a new meaning when I read it purely from my perspective as a gardener. I can see for example that the apparently simple quote could have deeper notes; notes that instantly make it more relevant to me on a daily basis. Let me briefly explain…
When I dream, day-dream that is, I’m often seeing gardens. Or more specifically; I’m seeing garden spaces as parts of a larger garden. I might have an ornamental border in mind that is ready for change, or occasionally a larger space to work with and think about. Either way, the space is very rarely a completely blank canvas.
To this end as a gardener, I have to dream. I have to time travel and look into an imagined future to see the plants growing and to see the space fully developed. I’d also say that it’s not just me but we, as a creative gardening community that need to dream on a daily basis in order to achieve a reality that many people enjoy.
We have to dream that journey of each plant and its growth from seed – to sometimes gigantic proportions. To know the vulnerability of each plant is to encourage dreaming that enables ‘sight’ of the plant growing, and enables us to know that plant in its mature form, with competing plants all around.
In that dream-zone we have to make allowance for the challenges each plant will face along the way. Animal and human pests, accidents, stress, neglect and extreme weather will challenge the existence of each plant and garden. That imaginary journey of each plant will therefore trigger precautionary or protective measures to ensure the best chance of success, and it will certainly lead us to delete a dozen plants from any wish list before a single seed is sown, or plant ordered.
Gardeners do though have to understand the reality behind the dream, the processes and resources that enable us to grow from seed, to nurture cuttings or select plants. Gardeners also, sadly, have to understand how other factors may impact the future of a garden. Changing attitudes can sweep away a gardener’s dreams almost overnight. Each new generation can play to the new fashion; and a whole garden can all too easily be swept away with a new broom. Understanding that reality means that a gardener must dream and see the final vision, in order to make the often challenging journey bearable.
Finally, therefore, to return to the quote about gardeners who dream bigger than emperors; I have to say that I agree on all levels. To undervalue that ability to dream big is to stifle imagination, and to prevent the creation of something that may to one person be distasteful, but to another be beautiful, restorative, and life changing.
Gardeners ought to be encouraged to dream, for it is they who create, adapt and grow the unique and heavenly places so important to us all.
Perhaps we shouldn’t tease someone who appears to be day dreaming today, for in ten years we may be applauding their great gardening achievements, and in fifty years we may be celebrating their visionary foresight….
Gary Webb. July 2019.