In a comment on my last post, M. mentioned the sensuality of gardening. Truly, there is little that can offer more joys to the senses or more opportunity for sensual encounters of various kinds than a garden. Bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, all those pollinators going about helping the flowers have sex; the pistils and stamens, the ovaries fruiting, the scents and colors and attractions doing the work of creating what is juicy, spicy, tasty, fortifying, fragrant, or gloriously beautiful. While picking beans in the heat of late July or weeding in the dog days of August, however, the gardener may be forgiven for occasionally overlooking these aspects.
But the garden can be considered sensual–the garden is all about desire. My desire to feed my family with fresh foods, or to decorate my view with blooms. My desire to share the garden bounty with friends, or to try new varieties of vegetables, or to see what happens if I let that volunteer melon grow.
And if plants can be said to possess any so-called human quality, I can easily anthropomorphize them as desirous. The desire to live, and to live in order to reproduce: these are the most basic purposes of our DNA, and of the plant’s. As a gardener, I manipulate the plant’s desire. I pick the beans before the seeds have ripened in the pods, and the bean plant in its urge to produce seed sends out more flowers, more young and tender green beans. It will continue in its desperate output until the roots are exhausted. Quite the pathetic metaphor, I guess.
The plants evolve each to its own specialty. Those that “choose” dispersal of seed via bird digestive tracts grow vivid against foliage, easy to see. Those that rely on maturing into pulpy rot, to ensure their seeds get nurtured in the soil beneath the parent plant, hide under large leaves close to the earth. The hard pit, the soft seed pouch that requires fermentation to germinate, the barbed husk that gets carried off in the fur on a mammal’s leg–gardeners often foil some of these strategies, but only temporarily. We turn them to our own uses because we desire the sweet kernels, the juicy flesh, the ripe scents.
Meanwhile the plants continue making more of themselves. The wind blows, and delicious summer fragrances enhance it as it floats the pollen toward awaiting receptors; the bees collect pollen on their legs while climbing into and out of flowers (how sexy), the female flowers of the squash stems swell…
What makes our purpose any different from the plants’? Maybe we experience desire not because we are human, but because we exist, as plants do, to leave something of ourselves behind. That something will not always be our DNA, however. It may be a system, a process, a work of art, a story. Something, perhaps, that we desire.
I love this reading of what desire is all about. Ambition has been on my mind.
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I think I’ve posted on ambition in the past. I have still newer thoughts on it, though. I’d like to hear what you have to say about it, Lesley.
This post reminds me of a scene in the 2003 movie, “Off the Map” in which Joan Allen does her gardening in the nude and (I think) gets into a staring competition with a coyote while doing so. I am afraid that much of my own gardening has been curtailed due to unpleasant company that often comes in the form of mosquitos, and, alas, poison ivy. You can take more than one or two steps in my overgrown back garden without encountering the toxic stuff. It slyly hides itself amongst the thickly growing areas of columbine, geraniums and vinca.
Poison ivy’s a problem in my gardens, too. Which certainly would curtail gardening naked… 🙂
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What a lovely piece of prose, poetic in fact. I keep telling myself I’m just a reluctant gardener and just the labourer to my wife’s ideas, yet I do find many moments in the garden just as you described them; and we have transformed it over 20 years or so from what was a grassy patch surrounded by brambles and weeds to a mature garden with raised beds for fruit and veg. I’ll have to post some pics some day.
“What makes our purpose any different from the plants’?” Indeed.
The connection between these two posts is delightful. It is as if after finishing the initial garden tour, you turn to us and ask, “Want to take a closer look?” Of course, we do. What was just a glimpse is now a full blown snapshot. Lucky us. Thank you.