One year ago, almost to the day, the border between Canada and the U.S. closed. The closing didn’t end all movement back and forth but for all practical purposes, for most of us it put an end to easy crossings.
Today, no one knows when the border will re-open, and wondering about that unknown date set me thinking about borders and boundaries as they relate to gardens and landscapes. What is the difference between a border and a boundary, and what impact, if any, does a verbal distinction make on the ground? Thinking of those two terms brought garden ‘beds’ to mind, creating a trio of words to ponder over.
This is what I’ve concluded. Both borders and boundaries are lines that separate and define. They can be physical divisions — solid fences or border walls, for instance — or they can be less tangible, even invisible like the line on a map, while still marking where one area ends and another begins. A border can be decorative, as on a tablecloth; a boundary can be metaphoric or moral, a limit on what you will accept in terms of speech or action from another person. As for beds, must they be places where plants sleep as well as live and grow?
Putting verbal nuances aside, my mind shifted to the delight of all three. How gorgeous it is to look down on agricultural lands from an airplane to see a patchwork of fields, presented in shades of green, earth brown or tawny gold, depending on the season and the crop.
Stone walls are the traditional method of dividing fields in my part of Quebec. They are the result of necessity — in earlier days, stones had to be cleared so a field could be plowed and planted, which meant they had to be moved somewhere. So either they went into walls …
… or into rock piles at edges of the fields-to-be.
Fences mark both borders and boundaries but the message they carry is different from the message of a stone wall. The poet notes that while a wall separates, it always needs mending, the “frozen-ground-swell under it” making “gaps even two can pass abreast.” The fence is a stronger barrier, telling the outsider to go away, to stay out, that this is my land, not yours.
The Abenaki used to move across a land that had no borders or boundaries, and I’ve shown this at Glen Villa in several scenes. Because the Abenaki believe that human beings were created from the ash tree, I used inverted ash branches to show a group striding across an old farm field.
Lower in the field, the Walkers encounter signs that settlers have arrived. First in time came split rail fences, then barbed wire which I have used to entangle the walking figures.
In gardens that are more conventional than mine, more standard things act as boundaries. Hedges of all shapes and sizes are often used to differentiate one part of a garden from another.
See-through fences or gates do the same.
At the China Terrace, my recreation of the resort hotel that once stood on the Glen Villa site, hotel ‘rooms’ are bordered by blocks made of slate and china shattered when the hotel burned down in 1909.
The small stream at Glen Villa marks a boundary, not between countries as rivers do, but simply between one side of the stream and the other.
Knowledgeable linguists may be able to explain the difference between a flower bed and a border. I can’t do this with any certainty. Generally, though, I think of borders as linear strips of ground filled with shrubs and flowers, like the new North South Arrow at Glen Villa
For me, a bed (aka, a flower bed) can have any shape — it can be round, square, triangular or some shape without a name. I don’t often describe the plantings around the Cascade as a flower bed, but according this definition I suppose they are.
The Roman god Terminus protected the markers that indicated the end point of one thing and, presumably, the beginning of another. Greeks called these markers Herms, after the god Hermes, and over time both the Greek and Roman forms acquired a particular shape, similar to the Term I saw at Rousham, a wonderful historic garden in England.
I’m using the idea of a Term figuratively in a section of Mythos, the extension of Timelines that considers how mythology shapes our views of the world and how, by re-thinking the stories, we can re-shape the message they send.
I’ve used the same shape as traditional Terms to re-tell Medusa’s story, twisting the idea of the border, or end point, to illustrate Medusa’s effect — which was to turn to stone those men who dared to look directly at her. The end of these stone-like figures is death, the end of life. Which is sometimes what this pandemic feels like.
What do you call the planted areas in your garden? Are they borders or beds? And does it matter?