This field of swiss grain above Lake Constance is a good example of the kind of conversations humans have with the earth. This represents technology brought from Asia to Europe and used as a tool for people to live on a land without enough resources to support their population without a technological intervention of some kind. These techniques were imposed on less settled peoples by a priestly class seeking to bring the world into the order of the Garden of Eden. They fine-tuned the rewriting the land as God’s Word in monasteries, and disseminated it from there. This is a middle-eastern field, a page from the Bible, written across old post-glacial space, and over the culture that preceded this field and its people. Its current lush green represents a new imposition: chemical agriculture, laid over what was a model farm in the 1950s for the perfection of pre-industrial, pre-chemical agriculture on a model of cleverness and discipline, also gifted to the Swiss by monks. In all senses, it is a profoundly cultural space, which can be re-read and re-written, should we wish. It is not nature.
Willow, Lake Constance
Formal gardens transform the earth into a system of social arrangement. Relaxed gardens, the English gardens of the 18th and 19th centuries and their heirs, recreate this social arrangement on the model of English country estates and a life of sophisticated culture built on the foundation of the physical world. The orchards of the Okanagan are one form of these gardens. The willow above, beside a lakeshore villa in Switzerland, is another. Both are beautiful. Both are artificial creations, serving the purposes of human social hierarchies. This is the Western way of integrating the earth into human social spheres. Our next step is to integrate these understandings into indigenous understandings, not the other way around.
Stein am Rhein
It is not to be confused with the Earth or the biosphere. That is to continue the white shaming of the earth that plagues North America. Sometimes “nature” is just an old roman fortress, rebuilt over the years, with weeds growing up in old cleared lines of fire, old farms, and over old paths. It is, in other words, a force of erosion of expressions of human will.
Stein am Rhein, Switzerland
Here we are in a community garden in Stein am Rhein, Switzerland, an old roman fortress, and before that a 4000-year-old settlement where Lake Constance becomes the Rhine.
A shaded picnic bench for the parents, in the middle of the garden, and a magpie nest for the kids, up in the sky, where they like it.
Rome, and the old sub-alpine culture might be gone, but its shadow can be very fiine!
Beurre D’Anjou Pear Tree in Healing Mode
In pre-scientific knowledge, these vertical shoots, the result of aggressive and wrong-headed pruning, are known as “water sprouts”. The old knowledge says it well. The principle here is that water sprouts from the heart of the tree, dries in the sun, takes shape and hardens. This is solid indigenous knowledge. “Modern” thinking counters that knowledge by noting that a skewed nitrogen/hormone balance in the tree favours growth over fruiting. If left untouched, it will favour fruiting in time.
Meadow Pear Tree
Indigenous Fruit culture in Hübli, Zurich Overland
The old way and the new are not in conflict. Pruning clippers are.
Boundaries show the limits of consciousness. When they are foggy, magic happens. Look how this grove inhabits the fuzzy boundary of the fog. It holds to itself and yet extends, not only across the pasture but into the fog. It makes sense. The grove is all about holding to itself and yet remaining open, drinking wind and eating light. Is it an active force? The question is absurd. It is a balance.
Now, look what happens when we pull back and include a human boundary called a wall. The tree is ‘contained’. It does its magic work within a human frame. That frame is what we call ‘civilization’. Note how it walls us out as much as it walls the tree in. To get to the tree we have to pass through the wall. We can be either on one side of it or another, but not both at once… unless we take the wall down stone by stone and carry them back to the quarry where they were once dug.
Fortunately, we have other metaphysical technologies. The one below is called a “way” or a “path”. In North America, we would call it a “trail”, but that’s a peculiarly colonial word, as fragile and riddling as a wall. A path is better. A way that extends to no end, from no beginning. A dancing ground, so to speak.
The trees know this. Look.
These paths for water rising into the sky don’t dissolve with the seasons. The tree neither lives outside of them or only at their tips. They are not histories. They are moments of presence. Now, add the wild. In this case, an ibex. This non-human point of view makes the entire scene as wide as the universe. It looks back, not just out of this animal, but everywhere at once.
That looking and that presence is who we are. Walls have contexts. They are not the path.
They are not the way.
The way is not through the trees. It is among them.
The opening is us, not them, but we can’t do it without them.
Until we are among them, then we know more, too.
These ancient celtic forests in the Jura are still home after a couple thousand years. That kind of deep knowledge attests to how we grew up together, but never apart.
In Germany and Switzerland, many garden walls are built quickly out of gravel dropped into wire cages. It’s quick, it looks better than military grade concrete, and it gets rid of rocks you might not know where to put. This post is about flowers, but to give you some context, here’s what the rock thing looks like:
Basalt in a Cage Limberg
On the way up to the ruins of Limburg castle, at the end of the Kaiserstuhl wine region, a huge pile of loess sitting in the middle of Upper Rhine Valley and called, in true Austrian understatement (yes, it looked East once), the Seat of the Emperor. Most cages hold much smaller rocks, but when you want to show off your volcanic past, this is a good way.
Island of Flowers
Complete with vertical elements. And don’t worry about the metallic look. I had to work hard with sight angles and photoshop filters to get the metal to show up in the photographs. In the open air it largely blends into the light.
No more messing around with weird, bent, rusted and collapsing tomato cages or bizarre constructions of pressure treated wood, wire, and drip hoses that look best only when observed at speed. Here’s a closer look…
Any Plant, Anywhere, Anytime
An entire new landscaping palette! Instead of sprawling along the ground or blowing in the wind and getting ripped to shreds, plants can grow here in a protected, vertical space.
Who needs a house wall, even, for a vertical garden? Simple, readymade technology to the rescue! Entire garden walls can be built in this way, for a few weeks, a few months, a season, or permanently. The flexibility is almost endless. The use of space is inspiring. And no rocks!