Is a Clearing in the Woods a Garden?

September 27th, 2015 | 13 Comments »

“A natural clearing in a wood is a glade. But a perfectly round clearing the same size, in the same wood, becomes a garden.”                                             … Juan Grimm, Chilean landscape architect

 

Ten years ago, in March 2005, we planted a ring of trees in a clearing in the woods. The clearing had been used as a staging area the previous winter, a place where the trees we were selectively cutting were gathered for pick-up.

Roughly circular, the clearing seemed to offer an opportunity. But for what?

We started with a flat muddy mess.
We started with a flat muddy mess.

I have no idea what prompted me to plant a circle of trees. Consulting my garden journal, I see only this note, dated January, 2005. “Idea: plant bare-root tree circle at end of plantation roads.”  Then, written in a different colour, the word DONE.

Why did I choose black walnut trees? Perhaps because they were available as bare root whips, perhaps because they reminded me of the walnut trees at my grandparents’ farm in the Blue Ridge Mountain in Virginia. What I know for sure is that I ordered 20 of them, enough to plant 15 trees around the perimeter of the circle and to have spares in case some trees died.

The trees were well identified.
The trees were well identified.

By June that first year, most of the trees were established and beginning to settle in.

We must have seeded the centre of the circle although I have no memory of doing this.
We must have seeded the centre of the circle although I have no memory of doing this.

Four years later, the trees were growing well, and the clearing itself was starting to look appealing, particularly when filled with wildflowers that appeared on their own.

Ragged robin bloomed everywhere one year, a wonderful surprise.
Ragged robin bloomed everywhere one year, a wonderful surprise.

This is how the tree circle looked in June this year, ten years after being planted.

The tree circle is a perfectly round clearing in the woods. Is it more than that?
The tree circle is a perfectly round clearing in the woods. Is it more than that?

And this is how it looked yesterday. Most of the trees are growing well, some are still struggling. I can’t account for the difference, only report that it is the case.

The shape of the circle is not as clear here as in other photos but you can see how well the trees are growing.
The shape of the circle is not as clear here as in other photos but you can see how well the trees are growing.

In 2005, I had never heard of Juan Grimm, a Chilean landscape architect whose work is inspired by the natural landscape. I had not read anything about him or seen images of his work. I don’t know where I first came across his words quoted above, but wherever and whenever it was, they immediately struck a chord.

So I ask you, is Grimm correct? Is the perfectly round clearing we created a garden or is it simply a clearing in the woods? Does naming it one thing rather than another change the way we think about what a garden is? Or is the question simply a way of playing games with definitions?

March 2005_-2
The entry to the clearing, as photographed in March 2005.

 

Does it matter? What do you think?

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