Monday, July 22, 2013

Wherefore the Fling: In which I don't talk about a single garden

I've been putting off writing about this year's Fling, partly because I've been busy, but also because every time I sat down to say something, I had a hard time trying to fit it all into one post. There were simply too many things I came home thinking about. So I'm throwing that plan out the window and I'm going to take it one idea at a time. To start, though, I want to talk about something besides specific gardens.

I'm sure that six years ago, when all those Austin garden bloggers got it into their heads to invite a few fellow bloggers to come on down for a visit, they never dreamed it would turn into this. What this is, of course, is approximately one hundred garden bloggers/designers/writers descending on a different city each year for a few hectic days of fellowship and garden touring. There are buses, and sponsors, and lots of schwag, and a fancy dinner, and a swishy hotel, and catered lunches...

And of course, there are the gardens, which are the lodestones around which we revolve for three or four days. They are glorious and inspirational, and because the Fling is in a different part of the country each year, they are wide-ranging in their styles and plant palettes. Most of the time they are gardens I can't re-create here on the Southern High Plains, but that's okay, because above all, a garden is about place. When I first started going to the Fling, this frustrated me a little, since I was hoping to get ideas for my own garden. Now I understand that my landscape is unique and challenging--just as all landscapes are--and my garden will necessarily reflect that. We have triple digit summers, winter temperatures that are frequently in the teens, and rainfall that in the past few years struggles to top 10 inches in a year. So, yes, challenging, and I would argue that it is also difficult. But isn't that the best thing? Don't challenge and difficulty push us toward originality? Of course my garden will not look like one in Asheville, or Buffalo, or Seattle. But is looks pretty damn good, and more than that, it looks like it belongs here. It is odd and quirky, and the beauty of it kind of sneaks up on you; it is found in the soft breezes, the wide skies, the spare and gritty plant life, and the balmy summer evenings. Just like the Llano.

You have to sit in my garden for a while on one of those lazy summer evenings, a cool iced tea or Shiner in hand, talking to neighbors, or listening to the fountain, or maybe watching the grasses drift in the wind, to really get it. But isn't it that way with all gardens? That is also one of the things that frustrates me about garden tours--that I don't have the opportunity to sit a while and feel the essence of the garden soak into my bones. It is impossible, of course, to do this; the gardens are often private and small, with few places to seat fifty or so people at a time. And besides, there are more gardens to see! But the miracle of it is that the Fling organizers are very good at picking out the gardens for the tour, and even without some quiet, measured time in them, they linger with me. I am still thinking about gardens I saw this year--they are fresh in my mind, and keep popping up in my thoughts as I work in my own. Two in particular do so, and I'll write about them in a future post. But I also find images from the gardens of previous Flings showing up in my thoughts, too, so the impact of these is immediate and profound--there was apparently no need to sit a spell in order to "get" them. Could I say the same for my own? Is it necessary for a garden to do this in order to be great? Or, like my landscape, can it be subtle and unknown to the casual observer, and be sublime because of it? I don't know, and I'm left to ponder that question.

That the Fling stirs up these questions for me is, to my thinking, its greatest value. It doesn't happen in a vacuum, though. Supposing that I had the wherewithal to see each of the Fling gardens on my own, sans all those other Flingers, would I have come away with as many things to think about? I don't believe so. The real work of the Fling occurs between gardens, on the buses and in the restaurants, and waiting with fellow Flingers in the hotel lobbies. Sometimes, of course, we are discussing the gardens we have just seen, but more often we are talking about life--our families, our jobs, our illnesses, our triumphs. In mixing our conversation with everyday matters and gardens, we are affirming what they are really all about, which is, of course, life and all that goes with it. They are not separable. So when I come back to my own place in the world, I understand, in a way I did not before I started attending the Flings, that my garden matters. I knew this on some level, naturally; it is hard to work in a garden and not understand some big things about the Universe. Gardens teach us humility, impermanence, and hope. But, at least for me, it takes being with other garden people to know that my garden matters because the act of gardening itself matters. It is impossible to be around so many thoughtful people, talking about life and gardens, and not come away with that feeling. I haven't quite got the why of it figured out yet--that is one of the questions that lingers for me.

Perhaps this is part of the answer: When you toil in your garden alone, it is easy to start thinking that it is a selfish folly. Oh sure, maybe a spouse says he or she likes it, or perhaps a neighbor expresses a friendly envy. But all too often, one is left thinking, "It is silly to spend this much time, energy, and money on something that, really, only I can see and appreciate."

When you meet up with others who are as moved by gardens as you are, though--when you find your tribe--you realize that yours is not a solitary endeavor at all. Indeed, it isn't even a solitary garden. It is part of a vast, ever-ranging landscape, and because of the interconnectedness of the tribe, in that vast landscape are all of the elements of life.

I thank the Fling organizers for bringing us together. It takes countless hours of hard work to find gardens, bring together sponsors, arrange for buses and catered lunches, put together packets of info--all of it done for non-profit. We participants recognize just how monumental and meaningful your efforts are. I hope that you know how valuable it is to us.

22 comments:

  1. You've captured the heart and soul of Fling perfectly! It's exactly why I try to go every year~The gardens are inspiring, the experience is almost all affirming, but, the community is what I need and thoroughly enjoy. I missed being with you all so very much. xogail

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  2. Susan, you've summed up so well what the Fling is really about: PEOPLE -- people sharing the experience of gardens that tell us something about a place (and a new place every year). And not just any people, but bloggers/writers who take the time to reflect on what they've seen and who delight in sharing their experiences -- putting it out there in the world for others to enjoy too. That's what I wanted the first Fling in Austin to be, and while the scale has grown larger than I envisioned back then, the spirit remains the same.

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    1. Pam, thank you for getting it started, and thank you for your continued leadership.

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  3. Susan - This is a really beautiful post - and sums up so eloquently what I felt in Buffalo and Seattle. I treasure the memories of the gardens I saw, but especially getting to know so many talented, curious, knowledgeable, artistic, skilled, charming, funny people who were so willing to share. I love visiting their gardens virtually and look forward to a future Fling that I will attend again. I am looking forward to all the SF Fling reports.

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  4. So beautifully and poetically expressed. Your conversations in person or from afar, like this one, come back to me again and again.

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    1. And your conversations stay with me, too, Linda.

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  5. I think this is a lovely post and I am glad to belong to such a wonderful, generous and knowlegeable tribe. I garden alone too and I share the thoughts about whether I am wasting my time, is it selfish etc, do I have OCD and meeting so many others who share my passion is reaffirming and liberating.

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    1. So glad to meet you, Helen! I hope one day to visit Great Britain again and see the gardens there. In the meantime, i hope you can come back to future Flings.

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  6. You nailed it, Susan. San Francisco's Fling (my first) was such a revelation in that community sense. Oh, sure, I was looking forward to meeting a few bloggers I regularly follow, but I was unprepared for the totality of the gardening-and-sharing force that was the Fling population severally and together. What a sweet discovery!

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    1. I didn't really get a chance to visit with you, Jane--I think we were on different buses the whole time. Maybe Portland!

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  7. A really great post Susan and so eloquently expressed. Thank heavens those Austen bloggers did get together six years ago!

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  8. Lovely thoughts that inspire this blogger to try and get to a fling one of these days soon....

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  9. That was cool. You put flingers' feelings quite nicely, but of course, you did. You're a writer. Was glad to see you there. Portland next year!~~Dee

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    1. As always, friend Dee, it was good to see you there, too. Portland!

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  10. Great post. I came home feeling that I had seen some great gardens. But like you, it was meeting the fantastic people on the Fling that made the trip so special - it kind of reminded me who I am.

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    1. Great to finally meet you in person, Victoria. As you say, meeting others reaffirms who were are as gardeners.

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  11. Well put, Susan. Fling was in the beginning about bringing gardeners together. That first year Pam promised, "we'll show you a good time". And she and her first committee did just that. Oh, and we saw some lovely gardens, too. I was sad to miss this year, not because I didn't get to see lovely gardens, but because I missed getting together with and talking with wonderful, passionate gardeners, from all over the country and the world.

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