Bust of Wordsworth

The Evolution of Wordsworth's Garden

            Gardening is, in a sense, a higher art than poetry.  That’s what Wordsworth wrote.  But I’m here each day at Rydal Mount, and what do I do?  Not art, certainly.  Maintenance would be more accurate.  His garden here is his garden, restored in the 1960s to the one he left upon his death in 1850.  For all these years, we, my predecessors and myself, have kept it as memorial.  You’ll see the jade, the creeping geraniums, the lilies—all the plants that were there on the day of his death, and in their same places.
            Wordsworth spent 43 years developing his garden:  building, planting, tearing out, replanting, terracing.  His was not a static, but an evolving, garden.  He is buried nearby, in Grasmere.  His plants are buried, too, the same ones, over and over.  When one jade dies, another has its roots buried in the same place.
            I have argued with them.  I have no doubt Wordsworth would have been fascinated, as were so many gardeners, with the dwarf trees introduced from China by Fortune in the 1850s.  And what of Hooker’s rhododendrons?  Could William Wordsworth have resisted the unique hybridization of roses in the 20th Century? 
            Nobody listens to my thoughts on the evolution of Wordsworth’s garden.  If I want changing beauty, I must do it surreptitiously.  I once secreted tulip bulbs to rise in a border.  I was asked to remove them.  I turned loose a parakeet.  They trapped its radiant blue.  I released three dozen butterflies.  They soon wandered to the clouds.  But for a moment, they changed the garden, brought to it art.  Wordsworth’s garden is archive, not poetry.  I stand in Wordsworth’s garden, in what will always be the shadow of his life, inspired by him in this uninspiring place.
            Would that a gardener be left to create art, to reinterpret Wordsworth’s earth as scholars reinterpret his life and his words. But never.  Let clouds play with light. 

"The Evolution of Wordsworth's Garden" first appeared in North American Review












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Bust of Wordsworth


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