Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Garden or a Yard?

As I speak or write to others, I often question how to refer to the area in which I toil. Is the area surrounding my indoor living space a garden? Or is it a yard? In order to arrive at the answer to a question of such magnitude, I consulted the "wise old sage", the "wizard of Oz", yes, you guessed it: the internet.

First stop: Merriam-Webster dictionary for definitions. Yard is defined as "a small usually walled and often paved area open to the sky and adjacent to a building" (yikes! a prison!), "the grounds immediately surrounding a house that are usually covered with grass or an enclosure for livestock" (thinking Plimouth Plantation here). In earlier times, the yard was where the laundry was done, the dishwater disposed of, the ahem "heap" kept, and the animals housed in our largely agrarian society. As our living became more urbanized and mechanized, our yards ceased to be the service areas they once were and we began to plant them with grasses to keep the dust down and to beautify our surroundings. Hence the yard became a "lawn".

Next, I checked the entry for garden which is defined as "a plot of ground where herbs, fruits, flowers, or vegetables are cultivated, a container (as a window box) planted with usually a variety of small plants, a public recreation area or park usually ornamented with plants and trees".

It would seem as though we as we turned away from our agricultural/rural way of living, we would have more time to pursue other activities if we planted our yards with grass (heck! taking care of a lawn is like planting a crop!). Now it seems as if we are coming full circle to a semblance of what we'd left behind. More money is being spent restoring lawn areas with other plants, trees, shrubs and flowers. We apparently are not satisfied with surrounding our indoor living spaces with a carpet of grass but are creating "gardens" filled not only with ornamental plants but food producing ones as well (there is a movement afoot to bring back the "victory" gardens of old). Places are being created, even small ones, in cities and suburbs filled with green growing things to refresh our eyes and calm our spirits as we inhabit our concrete jungle and navigate through our asphalt wilderness.

Next, I moved on to exploring the differences in the "mood" of a yard or garden to determine which catagory my outdoor space would best fit. The internet served as an excellent resource recording others' thoughts on the subject. I will begin with their thoughts on what a yard is.

  • Buy, buy, says the sign in the shop window; Why, why, says the junk in the yard. ~ Paul McCartney

  • I buried a lot of my ironing in the back yard. ~Phyllis Diller

  • I always thought a yard was three feet, then I started mowing the lawn. ~C.E. Cowman

  • A lawn is nature under totalitarian rule. ~Michael Pollan

  • This generation should entertain this generation. It's only fair. When I was a kid, I mowed the lawn. Now, somebody else's kid can mow the lawn. ~Tom T. Hall

A yard appears most often associated with a lawn (when was the last time the lawn was anything but a headache). Or a graveyard for the things we no longer desire (old sofas, garbage or an ex :)! Just kidding! Or the place where incarcerated people receive their exercise! It would seem, the mood set by a yard is lacking in renewal, relaxation or beauty.

Now on the other hand, here is what has been said about gardens:

  • The greatest gift of the garden is the restoration of the five senses. ~Hanna Rion

  • It is good to be alone in a garden at dawn or dark so that all its shy presences may haunt you and possess you in a reverie of suspended thought. ~James Douglas, Down Shoe Lane

  • I used to visit and revisit it a dozen times a day, and stand in deep contemplation over my vegetable progeny with a love that nobody could share or conceive of who had never taken part in the process of creation. It was one of the most bewitching sights in the world to observe a hill of beans thrusting aside the soil, or a rose of early peas just peeping forth sufficiently to trace a line of delicate green. ~Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mosses from and Old Manse

  • Gardening is about enjoying the smell of things growing in the soil, getting dirty without feeling guilty, and generally taking the time to soak up a little peace and serenity. ~Lindley Karstens,

  • In my garden there is a large place for sentiment. My garden of flowers is also my garden of thoughts and dreams. The thoughts grow as freely as the flowers, and the dreams are as beautiful. ~Abram L. Urban

Ahhhh! A garden! It is sensual, peaceful, a thing of beauty. A place to dream and create. A way to nourish our bodies and our souls. I believe after reading the above and knowing how this space around my abode moves my heart, I now know there is a profound difference between what is a yard and what is a garden. Now when I converse or scribe, I can assuredly know my outdoor space is not merely a yard but is indeed . . . my garden.


Gardens are a form of autobiography. ~Sydney Eddison

This garden quote caused me to contemplate what my gardens say about me. That foundation and structure matter to me? That I don't need much water? :) That I love weeds? That I am creative? That I break rules? That I am vibrant? That I am not a run-of-the-mill gardener? That plant names mean something to me? That I am natural? That I am a failure? Or rather that I am a work in progress? Gardens can be a reflection of who we are, what we are about and what is important to us.

What does your garden say about you?

Begin creating your autobiography today . . . in your garden.


kate smudges said...

Your post reminded me of a blog comment I read a long while back. A UK blogger found it strange that we in N. America refer to our gardens as yards. (yards in the UK, she said, referred more to places for animals, junk etc and not for one's property. Since I haven't had any lawn for several years and my property is planted with perennials and shrubs (with a pond in back and a rose/veggie garden in front), I've always called my "yard" a "garden" ~ and like to think that it reflects my soul.

Garden Wise Guy said...

I'm in good company here - Kate's comments preceding mine! Honored to be in her esteemed company.

It's a garden as soon as you apply your personal taste and meaning to it. As a writer and teacher of landscape design, I tend to nuance the difference between "garden" and "landscape." A garden is more a collection of plants, sometimes for utilitarian purposes like food production, balanced with aesthetic thrills.

However a landscape makes room for people and their needs. Think of your outdoor areas as an extension of your indoor home (you ARE paying property taxes on it, so you might as well reap the benefits) and make sure it meets your functional needs, like places to entertain guests, chillax with a good book, or play with Mikki.

I wax poetical about this topic extensively at my blog (along with bile-raising rants about the hideous things people do in the name of gardening).

Let's keep the dialog up - you write with depth and artistic style. Keep it up. Glad I found you. Who says Twitter is a worthless self-indulgence?