Reflections on Chauncey Gardner and the Winter Garden

During my vacation this week, I got to watch ‘Being There,’ the classic film about a mentally-challenged man who, by mere chance, becomes an advisor to Washington’s political elite.  Certainly one of Peter Sellers’ finest performances, and meaningful on so many levels.  I’ve seen it several times over the years, each time discovering fresh nuances that add to the story’s timeless appeal.

This time around, I considered  the implications of Chauncey’s brief pronouncement: “There is much to do in the garden in winter.”   It’s a curious statement, untrue on the surface, and yet absolutely essential just beneath it.  Because really, what could we possibly do in the garden in winter?  Read the seed catalogues as they arrive in the mail?  Draw our planting designs for next year?  Wipe down the tools that we left to rust in the garage?  It’s too darned cold out – I don’t want to do anything!

That’s when it hit me.  For gardeners, winter is the time to rest after the frantic rush of autumn harvest.  And it is not just inevitable – it’s essential.  We need to restore the energy that has been completely spent – by work, by Christmas shopping, by  preparing and serving a fabulous feast to our families and beloved friends.  All the wonderful rituals of the holidays need to close with a period of quiet.  We need the balance of activity and stillness.  Without rest, we simply can’t grow again.

I had been planning a very active holiday break – family visits, a trip to Center City, projects at home. And indeed, I got to do some of those things, and enjoyed them tremendously.  But for once, I stopped short of pushing myself beyond all limits.  I embraced the need for quiet by spending time at home – reading, playing with the new kitten, and, luxury of all luxuries:  napping.  And it felt great!  For once, I feel ready to return to work, revitalized instead of exhausted.

Piet Oudolf  shared his perspective in a recent NYT article: “The garden in winter is an emotional experience,” he said. “You think in terms of decay and disappearing and coming back. You feel the life cycle of nature.”  Oudolf has  probably done more than any contemporary designer to show us the beauty of the winter garden.  See his proof in the lovely photo below:

Piet Oudolf's Winter Garden, from the New York Times

I’m very thankful for the long holiday break, the gift of rest, and the lessons of the winter garden.



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