Thursday, September 8, 2011

Chicory and the Flora of the Imagination

Post 2
Roadside Chicory and Queen Anne's Lace from

Right now, in this heat, the flora of the moment is Chicory, that supposed weed, a lavender blue dilly blooming along roadsides, robustly blooming because its long taproot descends down into the water table.

The Bookish Gardener has a wonderful entry on this flower, quoting gardener extraordinaire Henry Mitchell, which confirms my suspicion that this is a weed worth reckoning with. It is beautiful, it is edible, it can be made into coffee. But because of that long taproot, it dislikes being potted up, constrained and commodified. It must be grown wild from seed or it perishes.

You have to admire a plant like that -- though there is none of it in my garden. Because my garden is a real garden and has constraints. It's a small garden and chicory likes a wide swathe to spread out. So it only thrives in my imaginary garden, one I garden just as resolutely as I garden my real one. For in my imaginary garden go all the ideas, plants and opportunities for which there is no room in reality.

The Secret Garden, from Project Gutenberg
This secret dream garden is important because it is the backbone of the real garden. From it you can draw out a wisp of an idea, a possibility, and tend it into fuller reality. Like a real garden, you need to cultivate its soil, achieve tilth, find fertility. Without an imaginary garden, your real garden will be a collection of plants skillfully arranged.

 Some gardens seem to have an extra shot of life in them, a vibrancy. It is a quality hard to describe and even harder to achieve, but, like pornography--you know it when you see it. Great gardens have it. And part of that greatness comes because you can catch a glimpse of the dream garden within the real one.

So now, the more I think about it, maybe I should  try a stand (no room for a swathe,) of chicory next spring out along my hellstrip. I imagine it would look mighty good come next midsummer's heat. and it would make my dream garden that much closer to the one I actually tend. Which would make me happy. And that is another secret identity of the garden.  That it makes you happy.

Dream Garden by Maxfield Parrish and Louis Comfort Tiffany

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My dad used to affectionately refer to the chickory as "Blue Railroad Weed" since there seemed to be so much of it visible along the railroad track corridor from his daily LIRR commute from NYC.