Down to earth – please take a seat

(Originally published June 26, 2013 in East Bay/South Coast Life)

From here on in, one of the best things to do in the garden is nothing at all. I believe that staring at the garden is at least as important as weeding it. It’s like gazing deeply into the eyes of a loved one: a great way to get better acquainted and stay connected. We should sit long enough to see beyond the weeds to the garden’s glorious details. Long enough to spot the black swallowtail caterpillars on the parsley and bronze fennel. We should watch as poppy petals shatter and scatter, or as the night blooming cereus flowers unfurl. It’s only when we sit still that the hummingbirds give us a face to face once over. (Are those your lips or a flower full of nectar?) And it’s only when we stop moving around that the goldfinch light on seedheads nearby. Sitting and staring is also necessary for our health as summer heats up and we run out of steam. But as much as I love to, I don’t stare at my garden nearly often enough.

I am almost incapable of sitting still when there’s work to do in the garden. And I don’t know a single gardener who wouldn’t say the same thing. No sooner do we sit than we pop back up again to pull a weed, trim a branch, plant a container, take a picture, mow the lawn. But all garden designers and most landscape architects through history have decreed that gardens must have places to pause and take in the view. Even if we (its gardeners) rarely or only momentarily avail ourselves of them.

It could be argued that in our gardens, seats are for other people. Visitors. Certainly we want our guests to relax and no doubt we’d be a little alarmed, and very embarrassed if they paced the garden as restlessly as we do, pulling weeds and making piles. They must sit! And so we should provide some options. That’s no hardship for me. I happen to have a “thing” for chairs and collect them as I do plants, taking in strays and cherishing gifts and sublime scrimped-for specimen.

trash-picked symbolic seat with a beebalm viewChairs and benches may be used as destinations. To give us a reason, even if only a symbolic one, to walk all the way to the end of a path or to pause en route. For that, I employ a trash-picked, skeletal relic of a rattan armchair that has a geranium growing up through its bones. It no longer supports my weight (my last plop down on the seat snapped its ribs) but even so, it elegantly marks a place along a path from the back yard to the front where I need reminding to pivot and take in the view.

Whether ornamental or actually comfortable, chairs and benches can also function as focal points and anchors in the garden. I generally prefer my tiny garden’s focal points to have outstanding foliage and/or flowers so I’m grateful to have a pair of see-through welded-wire spring-loaded rockers on permanent loan from one of my favorite gardeners ever. They’re just visible enough to be practically invisible. And because they’re much more comfortable than they look, I like to place them wherever I might enjoy the view from their seats. And no matter where that may be from one season to another, I believe that the view of them and through them enhances the garden’s design.

The other day I managed to accomplish so much weeding, planting, mowing and photographing in my garden that I actually had the thought, “I’m done! I can sit now.” Of course I wasn’t done—gardens are never done (that’s part of their hook)—but I sat anyway. First on the porch stoop, then in a chair on the deck with a keyhole view of my back border through a rose in full bloom. Taking the time to thoroughly enjoy my garden—without popping right back up again—was the best work I did all day.

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