Monday, August 2, 2010

The Tiny Garden

Photo courtesy Flickr

It doesn’t take more than a few square feet to establish a landscape.

The most enchanting garden I ever saw was tucked into a corner between the hitch of a small Airstream trailer and the front of the body. The trailer was parked on the windswept shoulder of the beachfront highway through a coastal Indian reservation, just to one side of the general store. A fishing couple were living in it for the summer, and the young woman had planted bright miniature dahlias and four-inch pots of shrubs to establish her yard. It was a powerful statement of the value of horticulture in severe circumstances.

Two other tiny gardens stand out in memory. What they lacked in the guerilla aesthetic above they made up for in refinement. One was the dooryard of a painter’s caretaking shack set in the middle of a chain-link parking lot for RVs. A small, shallow frame of good soil stood to the right of the door at the top of a short flight of steps. It was set with scavenged plants memorable only for their compostion, but truly memorable for the interplay of height, size, texture, and space.

A third garden was a door into a separate reality. It sat in the back room of a gallery of Korean folk art in a very old commercial building in one of Portland’s western suburbs. The Seventies were exquisite years when period architecture stood in original condition, poised on the brink of decay and unmolested by historic preservation.

Complete with original hardware, a weathered drawer from a large, old dresser rested on four concrete blocks in the middle of a casual seating area on an ancient, worn, and splintered fir floor. Cool indirect light made its way through the original windows, the glazing of which was old enough to have flowed. The plants, scavenged shade-loving natives carefully composed in the tradition of Japanese dish gardens, were set like theater in the round. Even though some of the elements were awkward and not yet standing on their own roots, their presence was hypnotic, and they stole the show that was hanging in the other room.

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