More and more I think it is the effort of the pruner that makes the garden, forms its good posture and lineaments, defines its future course of behavior in the way an editor (a good one) grooms a manuscript and renders it viable. A pair of shears, the secateur, is the gardener’s essential blue pencil and the pre-eminent way of ridding his labors of error.
In a letter to Elizabeth Ephrussi, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “. . . it is not the gardener who is encouraging and caring who helps, but the one with the pruning shears and spade; the rebuke!” The shears and the spade (one could include the saw and the pitchfork) censure here and, by doing so, encourage there. Depending on their manipulation, they can be wise or stupid, adroit or blundering.
At times, a bit of fine prose may lead to a fine garden or doggerel too, in the same way that a little ditty may end as an aria or even a symphony. Consider a chance encounter at a street corner: “. . . that, suddenly, she stood there, after all those years, in a red, sloping hat and a pale blue scarf loosely tied at her throat, as if in a dream, as if. . . .” And there you have the planting, a ruby-hued Japanese tree peony above a stream of azure squill.
A phrase can be that clearing in the wood, a great opening caused by the fall of an old tree in a storm, loss becoming gain, as leaf fall turns to mulch, mulch to soil, soil to leaf again, the round of seasons, flowers, produce, over and over again, thick roots the prose of it all, the rest ceaseless poetry.
The garden is painting the same way it is music and sculpture, song and opera. All of the arts, dance included, feed it. It is, in its excess, as vulgar and repellent as grand opera produced and performed without sensitivity and intelligence. Unrestrained, it is a performance unwarranted, ugly to the eye, entirely inexcusable.
Without control and chastening, the garden may be thought of as an unruly orchestra, composed of musicians each one deluded into thinking he is a soloist. Sometimes they are as a result of obsessive gardeners, themselves in need of amendment. Think of the all-grass garden, the all-rose garden, the gardens in which daylilies predominate, gardens designed for butterflies, hummingbirds, or frogs, gardens on Shakespearean misconceptions, Bible gardens, moss gardens, “Oriental” gardens, “native plants” gardens . . . the list is, alas, quite long and their result very much like an orchestra composed only of flutes or kettledrums. Very much like the corps de ballet in chaos as each dancer pounds toward the center of the stage to do a solo way, way before their training warrants it.
(I think I have been too mild with all of this.)