Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Genius of the Place

To build, to plant, whatever you intend

To rear the column, or the arch to bend,

To swell the terrace, or sink the grot;

In all, let Nature never be forgot...

Consult the genius of the place in all.

--Alexander Pope

My garden began with this rose. It was here when we bought the house two years ago, growing against the fence, seemingly pushed to the very edge of the property by the lawn. It was scraggly and unkempt, having battled both neglect and string trimmers for God knows how long, but it was blooming on the day we signed the papers.

I cut one of the blooms to put in a vase, and while I was cutting, I saw the first hazy vision of my future garden in that expanse of grass.

Later that summer, when I began digging, I found the soil there along the fence to be quite nice and well-drained, as though someone had worked it in the past. Then I began to unearth shards of clay flowerpots and old plant tags, and realized that a garden had grown here once before.

What was it that suggested to me to plant my garden here? Was it the obvious full-sun southern exposure? The fact that there was already something planted there? Or was it something more mysterious, the "genius loci," or "genius of the place," that somehow "knows" how things should be.

I think that every place, even a suburban backyard, has this "genius," or spirit about it. It is what we are listening for when we stand in the yard, "staring at dirt." It speaks softly, but it speaks.


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