I’m starting to think that as gardeners, we need a better class of knick-knacks.
I was at the nursery t’other day—this is optimal planting season in the Southeast, where summer is what kills you and winter is basically one long growing season with occasional chilly bits—and like many nurseries, this one had the big enclosed area full of knick-knacks and bits of what, as a professional illustrator, I shudder to call “art.”
What usually strikes me, as I wander through there, wondering if they’ve hidden the bulbs in the back or if I should just knuckle down and order them on-line, is how badly designed so many of these things are.
Decorative bird houses made out of sheet metal?
You will hardly ever catch a bird in one of those, unless it’s a Carolina wren, who will nest in ANYTHING, and even then, I’d expect the poor things to roast in summer. On the other hand, if you’re trying to provide habitat for paper wasps and spiders, buy a couple of dozen.
Decorative bird feeders covered in scrollwork/maple leaves/happy little trees?
Yeah, no. You know how they give the polar bears at the zoo old Christmas trees and tires and things so that they can entertain themselves by dragging it around the pen and tearing it to pieces? Now replace “polar bears” with “squirrels” and you have a pretty good idea how those work out in the garden.
Rocks with cutesy sayings on them?
Leaving aside the fact that in many parts of the country, the last thing any garden needs is another goddamn rock, I could see my way through this one, if any of the cutesy sayings ever applied to me. They don’t. There are ten thousand variations on “Grandma’s Garden” and (as a nod to equality) a few hundred on “Granddad’s Garden.” Dig around long enough in the bin and you may locate “Mom’s Garden” or, at the very bottom, “Dad’s Garden” (I assume they include one per box, just in case) and perhaps even a “Cook’s Garden.”
Possibly “Childless Professional Thirtysomething And Totally Cool With That Garden” required a larger rock than was feasible. Certainly “I Do Not Cook Myself But Once It’s Harvested Will Ask My Boyfriend To Make It Into Food Garden” may need such a small font as to be unreadable. Fine, these are highly specific. But if we are trying to speak to the universality of garden experience, would “My Garden” or “Wildlife Garden” or “Keep On The Path Or I’ll Cut You, Do You Not Know How Fragile The New Leaves On That Trillium Are?” really be so hard to come by?
Stepping stones with MORE cutesy sayings on them?
Now, I have no beef with stepping stones in general. I use a bunch, ostensibly to keep from compressing my soil down (and then I go wander around in the beds anyway, because unless you have stepping stones every three feet, you will NEVER get that one weed out.) And they have all kinds of general utility in the garden, such as leveling out the water barrels and holding down the edge of the biodegradable weed fabric and keeping the spring-loaded hose from sproinging everywhere.
But mine cost $0.97 a pop. At $9.95, the custom stepping stones run a little pricey to cram under the edge of the water barrel. And again, the sayings tend to run to how this is Grandma’s Garden or inform me that “One Is Closer To God In A Garden Than Anywhere Else On Earth.*
Occasionally poetry is involved, for a certain value of poetry.
(I am not opposed to poetry. I feel it is one of the great art forms. None of these stepping stones, however, will be standing toe-to-toe with Homer any time soon. Show me a stepping stone that details Hector, Tamer-of-Horses, being dragged around the walls of Troy, and I will hand you your 9.95 on the spot.)
I have no objection to the nicer sort of mosaic stepping stone. If I had an unlimited budget and had already settled quite a lot of money on the Nature Conservancy and Bat Conservation International, I might take a few hundred and re-do one of the paths in blue mosaic glass.
Metal signs with…oh god, more cutesy sayings?
Well, if you want eight different items in the garden proclaiming that it’s Grandma’s Garden, go for it. If this were a scene from Memento, they might be useful. At the very least, they’ll create plenty of habitat in that dark sheltered space against the wall. (Lots…and lots…of habitat…)
Metal animals or concrete sculptures?
Eh, knock yourself out. I’ve got a giant metal chicken and a couple of herons made out of old trumpets, I don’t get to judge. (Another nursery I was at had a concrete T-rex! I was very tempted!) The problem with these, of course, is that the really AWESOME ones tend to be quite expensive (there were at least two zeros in the T-rex) and the horrible tacky indestructible ones tend to be quite cheap. Some of those gnomes alarm me. If I went out to drop some stuff in the compost pile in the late evening and caught sight of one out of the corner of my eye, I would probably scream “AAAAGH! ALIENS!” and run headlong into a wall.
The problem, I expect, is that so very few of these are actually made by gardeners, and most of them aren’t even FOR gardeners. They’re made for non-gardeners to give to gardeners as gifts so that the gardener can be checked off the gift list and the giver can move on to the next relative.
HINT: If you want to make a gardener happy, give them a bag of manure. I guarantee it will thrill them to their bones. If you have a budget, four or five bags of manure are just as good, although I suggest perhaps merely including a note as to their location in the card, rather than try to wrap them and wedge them under the tree.
What gardeners do not need—most of us, anyway—is something that tries to sell us on the Ineffable Joy of Gardening, in a cheery swirly font with butterflies painted around it.
We know all about the Ineffable Joy. We feel it when the half-hardy perennial comes back despite the cold snap, when the plant that was Almost Certainly Dead puts up a tentative green stalk, when we have finally, after several weeks, gotten every single one of the plants in the ground that we bought during the plant sale and thought we’d have planted in two days. We discover it when we are sweaty and smell like aged horse and there is a knee-high pile of pulled weeds, or when it rains the day before we were grimly going to start the Soaker Hose Rota.
We see it particularly when the woodpecker fledglings fledge, when the pipevine swallowtail finds the pipevine and lays eggs on it, when the monarchs descend on the milkweed. We feel it when there are a hundred bumblebees swarming over the garden, interrupted by sphinx moths and hummingbirds. We do the little dance when we find a bug or spot a bird we’ve never seen before. This is what wildlife gardening is about.
Try getting that on a rock.
*This last may actually be true. I think the god in question is Loki, or whatever debased deity the squirrels are offering my bulbs to.
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