There’s some new Bon Iver stuff out, repetition and melancholy. Perfection. When I look for confirmation of myself in music, it’s usually Bon Iver. I like the routine, and the emptiness that is allowed around it. When every day is your own to make, the space seems interminable.
I love the phrase melancholy and the landscape. I saw it the other day on Federal Twist, in a post that reflects a bit of what I’ve been thinking about lately. Why aren’t photos of bright English borders making me feel anything? Why do I feel a fondness for kale in a mixed border in the evening light? Why am I loathe to stake anything? Why am I so uncomfortable being lonely now when it used to be as natural as breathing?
It’s a recalibration, coming off a few weeks of working on weddings, and back to my own, solitary existence. Back to a garden that will be taken apart and redistributed in a few months. I make flowers with the mildew ridden ‘Graham Thomas’ roses, sunbleached yarrow, and drying astilbe. I cut whatever I want from the shrubs because who cares, I’ll be gone. There are luxurious bouquets of Koko Lokos and Distant Drums.
I’ve let the frosted explosion grass and cosmos self seed, making the main bed near impossible to get through. It takes me practically 5 minutes to get to the zinnias 3 meters away. It doesn’t have to be this way but I like encouraging the plants’ agency (and aphids). Every spring I never seem to be able to remember just how big individual cosmos plants get. I think I can leave them in between the rows of other plants. Always a mistake.
The pounding rains have forced me to corral the sweet peas (now reaching 6 ft and going for broke) with hastily erected trellis I had lying around, and a prison of twine. It looks vicious but already the vines are growing through and softening the look. I can hardly imagine the painstaking work that must go into cordon training them. If I manage to prevent them from going to seed another day, I pat myself on the back.
My garden is not melancholic. It’s just a lot of flowers growing every which way. Flowers everywhere. It’s a mess. Can your own garden ever be melancholic? Melancholy suggests a longing and aloofness that’s difficult to feel about your own work (or lack thereof). Although, yes, it is true that death is always around in gardens and the season might be over soon. Might be over too soon.
Too, one has to be melancholic, or at least suggestive towards it, to let the surrounding melancholy seep in. Otherwise the garden just looks shabby, tawdry, distasteful. The landscape evokes but I think more often it confirms. Like listening to music or viewing a dance performance, really any art, you either feel the weight of a piece or you don’t. You can learn from something or appreciate it, but not feel it.
Just because something doesn’t strike you one day, doesn’t mean it won’t another, and vice versa. I think this is why good gardens have a variety of spaces, and there is always some point that lets you breathe. Maybe it’s why we love long views ending in classical statuary. Really, is there anything more melancholic than a yew hedge, lawn and a crumbling Aphrodite? A few days since that lawn was mowed, a few decades since that hedge was planted, and a few centuries since that sculpture was discovered, in pieces, in a cave; millennia since it was first made. Time.
Why, if this interval of being can be spent serenely
in the form of a laurel, slightly darker than all
other green, with tiny waves on the edges
of every leaf (like the smile of a breeze)–: why then
have to be human–and, escaping from fate,
keep longing for fate? . . .
From The Ninth Elegy, Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Stephen Mitchell
Getting lost in a garden, or having the sensation of disconnect, is another way of approaching melancholy. It’s good to have curving paths and small alcoves. It’s good to be alone.
And why should it be melancholic? I suppose because there’s a peace to melancholy, there’s no expectation of excitement, joy or curious engagement. It has a realism in its embrace of age, bitterness, and death. It accepts the ephemeral nature of plants and the garden. It opens space for quiet longing and gratitude. At its best, a melancholic garden takes you outside your lonely self and into the company of those others who aren’t present but surely have felt the same resonance of the space. It confirms, and envelops, then fades softly in memory into something more beautiful than it was.