gordon front1

Gardeners carefully setting out tender annuals at Gordon Castle, Scotland, about 1900

Since June the tropical plants that winter in the greenhouse have been enjoying the summer weather outdoors. They are quite spread out — some in the orchard, others on the back terrace, the pool terrace, the parterre garden. Today however, on this lovely soft September day, I begin the task of returning them under glass. (Well, to be totally honest, under laminate, as the roof of the greenhouse is made of lexan, but no matter.)  It’s the 23rd time I will have done this here — somewhat incredibly — and deo volente I will be around for more seasons to come. But it did start me thinking about all the changes that have occurred in my garden, how in those 23 years so much has come and gone, grown up or disappeared, thrived or failed. The space I inherited from my predecessors in no way resembles the garden I will leave to my successors in this house, and sometimes I nervously wonder what, when in the due course of time I hand over the keys to this place, will become of all my efforts. Then I catch myself, and wistful resignation returns. The reality is that all my work will pass away, some elements swiftly, others more slowly, but pass they will, for gardening is the most ephemeral of all pursuits. In fact, ‘gardening’ almost defines the word ‘ephemerality.’ Just look at the pictures above and below. In the upper photo, two gardeners are planting out the large urns early in the season at Gordon Castle, Scotland. The one beneath is rear view of the same, sometime in the 1930s, with visitors walking the extensive grounds:castle gordonNow look again. This is Gorden Castle in 1952 from the exact same spot — just 25 years later. (The pictures, by the way, come from Ian Gow’s wonderful book: Scotland’s Lost Houses.)gordon afterWhat happened? Quite simply, the world changed. The huge 1700’s castle you see in the first picture was deemed too large and decrepit to maintain in the servant-less days after the Second World War. No one in the family wanted to live there, and certainly no one wanted the expense of keeping up the grounds, so the castle was simply torn down with only two of the minor wings remaining as separate houses, and the ancient medieval keep, which successive Dukes had preserved inside their ever-expanding house iterations, revealed once more.  The carefully manicured grounds, so primped and prized in the top photo, were plowed under for farmland. Finis.

And so it shall be here. In the due course of things, the next owners will surely make major changes, or, the world may change around them as it did for the Dukes of Gordon Castle, and who knows, the forest may advance over this land once more. Or meadow, or waste, or sea. But whatever happens, the one certainty is that nothing will stay the same. That’s the lot of a gardener, and over the years I have grown accustomed to that. My solace comes from remembering that we gardeners are merely the stewards of our land, and that our pleasures must come not from any mistaken expectation of permanence, but from the process of each successive day, and too, that our most enduring reward will be the simple knowledge that we tried to manage our personal corner of the planet as best we could — even if only for a day.




Ephemerality — 3 Comments

  1. Michael, so well said. I was walking in my Midwest Bungalow garden today, and am truly watching the seasons change before my eyes. I believe as we advance with experience (age) the beauty of the garden or meadow seem to be you important in life. We truly are the stewards for our tiny plots of earth. Truly appreciate your blog. Kind regards. Mike

  2. Michael
    Just the other day I finished cleaning out my mother’s home of 45 yrs and as I looked around one last time before walking out the door my childhood and all of those memories of years ago flooded into my mind. Your article is a reminder that the only constant in life is change, and change will come to everyone and everything we touch. Enjoy the moments of life and embrace the changes that will come…

  3. What a very nice piece. (Well, they all are. I loved the apples.) I think the same resigned thoughts about my saltmarsh island garden, as each winter storm brings the ocean closer.
    And now I’ll bring my own tropicals indoors, having left it to the very last minute………

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