Whys and wherefores

Your brain can sometimes float free as you garden. There’s nothing else quite like it – it’s something to do with being outside, repetitious tasks and creative sap. The world is limited but open. It’s something that others might liken to relaxation or therapy but can just as quickly turn and get stuck, on things you should have said or a repetitious pointless anxiety.

To free myself of the latter possibility, I listen to my favourite musician. Bob Dylan, the man whose voice alarmed me when I first heard it in the seventies, alarmed me with its fierce attractive roughness. It seemed to throw my poor attempts to express myself into pathetic relief. The power seemed almost unhelpful, the whole thing was almost too interesting. In any case, I felt unsure he constituted correct listening for a woman, many male companions seemed to believe he spoke in a code only perceptible to the masculine ear. Add to that, I was not and am not a particularly musical person, frequently forced to turn all kinds of music off through sheer irritation. But I knew he was the one, the only one that mattered and when I had finished my first professional life, my children had grown and I began working as a self-employed garden-developer about six years ago, I finally found enough room in my head to allow him the space he needs. The words, as they have always done, wound round my mind and I found he had entered my gardening world, illuminating my thinking about it. Not only that, I found the intrusion entertaining and fruitful, both with music and words.

The world of garden design likes to play with the idea that gardens resemble music – underlying structures, rhythms, repetitions and embellishments or crescendos. Fair enough, sometimes I can see that. But with Dylan there is more; the words let us slide into the riddles that any human endeavour can pose - even gardens and gardening. Now that to me is endlessly interesting.

I’m no kind of aesthetic theoretician. But I have always believed that a successful piece of art will finger the synapses of your brain and your emotions together, setting up sparks between them. With luck you get a multiplicity of resonances, bouncing around, throwing light on both the world and yourself in it. For me, that is what Dylan does; it’s not just music and singing, it’s an open act of creation which you, the listener, have a hand in and a responsibility for. You have to listen. You have to concentrate. You develop meaning together with the singer and your own understanding of the world.

It’s like walking round a garden and making it matter. You have to look, you have to think. It’s the least we can do. You develop meaning together with the garden-maker. And if you're able to engage in actual gardening, your actions and your choices drip with philosophy. Judgement, freedom, necessity, science, faith and doubt; they're all there, lying in the soil, waiting for you.

To be more prosaic, you need new thoughts as you work in a garden; otherwise you're going round and round the yearly practices, the endlessly repeated nuggets of advice. I like those thoughts to open and widen the vista in the mind, to go beyond the plant or the material, or the practice. To join things up, to express something beyond themselves, to be part of life. Let me out of the fenced enclave, however beautiful! Dylan's songs will always lead me somewhere. They'll connect me up, charm or amuse me, and lead me back to myself again, to what I'm doing, or what I care about. So I write my posts carefully, sticking to one song each time and enjoying the challenge of tying the song to a gardening preoccupation, or the lessons I have learnt in many years of making gardens.

I do not pretend that my interpretations of the songs have anything to do with Dylan's intentions. Nonetheless I always make an honest stab at conveying what I truly hear in a song. I'm not allowed to deliberately distort his work for my own purposes. And it is extraordinary how closely the song and the gardening issue can seem to fit. I'm aware that my explorations are rather rhetorically written - that just seems to be the way I write. But they're an attempt to work with both thought and feeling. That’s what I hope for too when I work on creating a garden.

My theoretical framework is laughably rickety. And I cannot say that my efforts have taken anyone by storm. But if you’re interested in widening the scope of gardens and gardening in the mind, or if you want to explore Dylan differently, you might find it an interesting experimental endeavour. You are supposed to listen to the songs I focus on of course, just to follow the discourse. Many don’t bother. Some tell me it doesn’t matter even if you can’t bear Dylan, which begs a lot of questions. Nonetheless, if anyone can instruct me on how whether there is any honest way I can add direct links to the songs, I would be most grateful.

1 comment:

  1. Greetings-

    My name is George Harris. I am 61 year old living in Costa Rica, retired from the States.

    I have a written a novel. I believe people who love Dylan will enjoy it. The book opens on August 30, 1965, the day Highway 61 Revisited was released. It has one chapter, Chapter Nine, with nine subchapters. The Highway 61 Revisited album has nine cuts.

    The book is Four Fathers Volume Two “Huckleberry Friend.” It is available on Amazon. I am making the book available as a “free to own” download on Saturday January 26 for 24 hours, starting about midnight Pacific time until the end of the day on the 26th. I can send to you the book in word or PDF format now, if you wish.

    If you are interested in Volume One, please let me know and I will make it available to you free of charge. If you deem fit, please let people with whom you communicate know about this free download opportunity. I will also make Volume Two available for 24 hours on February 2d.

    Here is a link-


    Thanks in advance,