There has always been a garden at the heart of things.
Long before Biddulph Grange and Sissinghurst; long before Chelsea and Kew and Mount Usher, and long long before Bronte’s Eden-like orchard and the locked gates at Austen’s Mansfield Park there was a garden. Before the Yahwist and the Davidic court scribes conceived their enclosures of creation; and long before the Phoenician, Assyrian and Guxianghun traditions there was a garden.
long before Skara Brae and the Céide Fields someone, somewhere honed their own personal space from the virgin landscape, and over time we’ve come to know this space as garden. In the Levant perhaps, along the banks of the Omo or the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers; or out on the fertile flood plains of the Nile or Danube, someone looked out from a particular view point at a particular time in history and thought, “Here”, and thus the history of the garden and gardening began.
Originally some easily accessed patch of ground, close to a water source and most likely with its own natural boundaries in which to build a shelter, tether an animal and in which to scatter grass grain and reap the rewards of the effort expended. Some patch of ground to claim and call their own; some small safe place to allow them provide for their cares while at the same time negating the need to constantly migrate from here to elsewhere, allowing them settle for a while, and in that settlement learning to forego the constant need to hunt and forage.
Perhaps it was a sole single-minded individual along the banks of the Tigris, or a small weary group tired of perpetually wandering up and down the Euphrates that decided “Here, here is where we stop”, and in that stopping set the whole concept of fixed cultivation in motion.
Of course, learning from others being one of the great human attributes it was not very long before others made gardens of their own, and in doing so in close proximity created the prototype to modern human communities. As life in settled places progressed, those early gardens provided a semblance of security and protection for these early communities. The activity in these early gardens had another benefit also, it helped improve mortality rates; not by much, but life expectancy in these new founded communities was most definitely extended. Of course longer lives meant bigger communities, and with this came the need to meet the demands of those growing communities. And so the gardens needed to get bigger and bigger, and in the expansion those early gardeners begat bigger households and communities, thus the tribe and the clan, thus territories, thus nations and kingdoms and empires; and somewhere in the midst of all this pioneering expansion and enlargement that other human attribute avarice, decided it wanted what everyone else had created, including their gardens, and thus their kingdoms and their empires, and the rest as they say, is a practical history, of sorts.
Gardens, as anyone who ever laboured in one will tell you, are damned hard work. There is always something that needs doing in a garden: there’s always a bed to weed out or a sod to turn over; always spent blooms that will need deadheading; fallen leaves to rake up whilst not forgetting the need to clip and prune and plant and stake, and the tying up and layering down, and the bulbs, and the seeds and the seasonal bedding etc.etc. There is always something to do in a garden. No matter where in the world you may live, whether in northern or southern hemisphere and despite long held time hounoured and foundational views on seasonal constraints, our experience here on The Monster In The Corner is that the gardening year begins on January 1st and ends on the last day of December. And whilst the recorded history of human development in all things social, cultural and philosophical is quite often placed in a garden setting, there must be no denying that the history writer’s imagined theatre in which to set stage for the sinister goings-on of their cast of characters, is no match for the everyday reality that allows the gardener get his or her hands dirty in the actual cultivation of personal hopes and dreams…
The first empires can trace their origins back to those original small-holdings and gardens established many millennia ago by our foraging and wandering ancestors ; those small bracts of soil and turf in some far-flung field that were cultivated to meet the immediate need of small groups of our forebears who were willing to get their hands dirty.
Today’s suburban gardens and allotment plots still offer a very small peek back into the world of those very first gardeners and in many ways things have not changed as much as we may think, even for us in our 21st century city dwellings.
Beyond the environmental and the sustainable and the eco-friendly; beyond the need to go Green and to buy local and to eliminate food miles; beyond the need to reduce, reuse and recycle, and way beyond the ever increasing carbon footprint and rising greenhouse gas levels there exist small lots and patches of land, little plots and allotment gardens tirelessly tended by gardeners who dedicate themselves to cultivating fresh dreams in our modern and ever sprawling urban expanses, and who, perhaps, in constancy with their gardens are unwittingly establishing new micro empires on which our ever expanding and concrete constrained communities may, someday, ultimately depend.
Just a thought by the way…just a thought.