The Most Lively Art

By: Margedant Hayakawa

President Emeritus, Pacific Horticultural Foundation…

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1979-web1996-web(The following essay by Margedant Hayakawa first appeared in Pacific Horticulture in Summer 1979 and was reprinted in Spring of 1996)

Gardening is many things—science, skill, exercise, recreation, education—but it is also an art. Perhaps because it is so many things it is less highly regarded in our culture than it deserves.

One of the objects of Pacific Horticulture is to remedy this state of affairs. Gardening needs advocates and spokesmen. It needs a publication where important question can be argued:  Should we have irrigated gardens in a dry country? How can the public landscapes of our cities provide a more wholesome environment and a closer sense of the natural world? How can smaller gardens, using less land, be made to yield greater satisfaction? In other words, what is appropriate horticulture for our time and place. We have already had a number of articles on such subjects, which might be said to deal with the ethics of gardening, and there is more to be said.

The aesthetics of gardening likewise should be discussed more broadly and deeply. We are a thousand years behind the Japanese in thinking about the garden as a serious artistic expression. I would like to see more theoretical discussion in Pacific Horticulture of space and shelter, form and color, rhythm, pattern, and design, with examples from western gardens. Landscape architects talk to each other about these things; they seldom talk to laymen.

Because gardening is also in part science, Pacific Horticulture has a role in keeping its readers informed on new developments and gardening techniques, always bearing in mind that our readers have varying interests and differ in their knowledge of special fields. Thus the editor has included basic articles for beginning gardeners—for example, on making compost, dividing perennials, dealing with snails—written simply and clearly, in enough depth, we hope, to interest the more advanced as well. In articles such as Wayne Armstrong’s “To Be or Not to Be a Gall” [Ed: Winter 1995], we deliberately go beyond the beginning gardener’s interest into a more technical area, and many readers thanks us for extending their horizons beyond the garden itself.

The scientific, the theoretical, and the aesthetic are all important elements of a good horticultural magazine, but, most important, it should be about plants. A passion for plants is something all true gardeners have in common. More and more people are developing this passion. (The Wall Street Journal and other newspapers remind us that gardening is the largest recreational activity in the United States.)  As enthusiasts get deeper into their enthusiasm they need more and better publications to satisfy their craving for information. They like to grow more different things and to read about plants they may never want to grow. Not everyone will grow Myosotidium hortensia, but everyone could enjoy our fine color photo of the plant, and we may all feel enriched by the knowledge that a rare and beautiful plant like this Chatham Island forget-me-not has, through evolutionary elaboration, come to exist on a remote island off southern new Zealand, and that gardeners have studied its requirements and replicated them here—a labor of love and skill.

How we regard plants is an indication of how we regard our own place in the universe. Do we think of them as raw materials? Food? Encumbrances to be cleared away for civilizations? Foundation plantings to sell tract homes? Symbols of wealth? Or a point of contact with the world of nature? Plants, of course, are these and more. The great interest in plants today is to some extent a recognition that we are part of the great chain of life, that we depend on the green world for oxygen and food as well as for beauty.  Consciously or not, this recognition is symbolized by even the lowliest coleus pining on a windowsill.

Pacific Horticulture has a twofold task: to serve the special needs of gardeners in the West, and to serve horticulture in general by helping it to achieve greater appreciation as a science, an art, and a source of joy.