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Something is in the Eye of the Beholder


You know you’ve made it in the world when you have your own Wikipedia entry. There’s something about the bracketed phrase [attribution needed] in an entry about your own life that just screams, “This guy is something special!” But since I do not yet have a Wikipedia entry (feel free to jump in there and fill the void, folks), I could be guessing.

Nonetheless, when I was told that this issue of the magazine would be focusing on a number of beautiful gardens (it must be “beautiful garden season,” which does not speak highly for the times of the year that are not “beautiful garden season”), I immediately did what any reporter worth his or her salt would do with 700 words to write and not a flipping clue as to which 700 words to choose from, and that was to investigate the word “beauty.”

Yup, it has its own Wikipedia entry. Obviously, our dictionaries are falling far short of the mark when Wikipedia must explain exactly what beauty is. I take it
in stride, simply adding it to the growing list of signs of the coming apocalypse.

I couldn’t lead you this far without actually quoting from Wikipedia, and I don’t want to get sued, so I will quote: “Beauty is a characteristic of a person, animal, place, object, or idea that provides a perceptual experience of pleasure or satisfaction … An ‘ideal beauty’ is an entity which is admired, or possesses features widely attributed to beauty in a particular culture, for perfection.” Well, heck, I coulda told you that. Except that I would have added the word “garden” in there someplace, if only to make my editors happy.

Unfortunately, if your idea of a garden includes the word “turf” (geez, I’m using a lot of “quotation marks” here today, but like I said, I’m doing my best not to get slapped with a lawsuit), it means that a football field could be the ultimate definition of beauty, especially if you happen to spot the phrase “symmetry and proportion” in the same Wikipedia entry. I know, I know, there are some of you who scream, “No, no, the ultimate definition of beauty is a baseball park!” Ah, but your bucolic sentimentality fails to take into account that the distance to the right field fence might be shorter than to the left field fence. “Where’s your symmetry … NOW?” (I’m using quotes to paraphrase Billy Crystal because … well, you know … lawsuits and such.)

Getting away from sports (which, no doubt, many of you are begging me to do at this point), there are many ways that beauty can be defined in the garden. From my experience speaking at garden clubs (the ones that haven’t banned me permanently), I think I can say with authority that the number one question on the minds of most gardeners is, “How come I can still see my neighbors?”

I’m not exactly sure of the origin of this mind set, but most homeowners have decided that if their neighbors’ homes, yards, gardens, garages, pets and especially children are ever visible at all, their own gardens are to be found wanting. It matters not that they might have grown the most perfect dahlia or sunflower or Joe Pye weed or dog vomit fungus in Christendom. If their neighbor can spy on it, their work is an abject failure.
Thus, they plant “arborvitae fences” (quotation marks added to keep me from being taken to court by Thuja,

a particularly litigious genus), which are designed to grow quickly and keep any evidence that there are any other inhabitants on this planet nothing more than a dim memory.

Unfortunately, if you’ve ever grown 27 arborvitae plants in a row to keep your neighbors at bay, you know that numbers 3, 9, 20, and 25 will drop dead after a particularly harsh winter, and numbers 2, 15, 16 and 22 will go into unexpected decline (the neighbors’ dog is high on the list of suspects).

Thus is your sense of “beauty” upended, and you are faced with the prospect of replacing eight arborvitae with eight exact replicas. Good luck with that.

My advice? Replace your garden with a football field or a baseball park … but I never actually said that in print, your honor.

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