I say I don't have a lawn, but I suppose I do--a very tall lawn, a simulacrum of a tall grass prairie, highly modified. Modified in very specific ways to grow on my wet land perched on the rim of the Delaware River Valley. To see my garden as lawn, it's helpful to imagine yourself very small, like the incredible shrinking man, walking among blades of grass that have become like giant trees.
Indulge my little conceit, a lawn of very large plants, many not grasses. The Rudbeckia maxima and the scrim of fading Filipendula below are taller than you are. So taking a walk through--not across--the lawn at this time of year is a thoroughly three-dimensional experience.
|Unless you're a giant, the Rudbeckia maxima and Filipendula venusta behind it are taller than you are.|
You can hide in this lawn--totally disappear, just like the incredible shrinking man, and no one in the house can see you. Need I enumerate the advantages? A fine place for dalliance, though that's not likely to happen at Federal Twist, except among the bugs and butterflies and frogs. A fine place for peeing outside too; that's good for driving away groundhogs. And it adds nitrogen to the soil.
Nor do you need to feed it. The plants stay in place over winter, so their goodness returns to the soil. After burning and chopping in spring, the detritus adds organic matter to the earth. It's certainly not self-maintaining, but care is infrequent, and not too much work.
It plants itself. Above, self-seeded Vernonia with Hydrangea arborescens by the pond ...
Another self-seeder, Silphium perfoliatum, on the right by the path. It, too, is taller than you. The lone Liatris is from one of several experimental corms I haphazardly put into the ground last winter. I see I should add many more.
Bees love it.
Filipendula, Joe Pye Weed, and Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum) above. Now that the Filipendula has faded from garish pink, it blends in well, and it remains a great structural plant. Structure is important to maintaining a tall lawn and keeping high visual interest. Flowers are a frill, nice but secondary.
Breaks in the tall field of planting create voids, corridors of view, and relative perspective. Here the tall Rudbeckia maxima, Miscanthus giganteus, Cercis canadensis 'Hearts of Gold', Filipendula, Calamagrostis acutifolia 'Karl Foerester' (l to r) tower over daylilies planted amid shorter grasses and carex, other low plants. Your eye can move freely among the taller plants and roam the open spaces, knowing potential for freedom, anticipating change, seeking the new (or old), reconnoitering routes to elsewhere. Then behind it all, the wall of forest, setting the boundary, but with its own interstices leading into a darker world.
So another advantage of this kind of lawn: it offers opportunity for daydreams, psychic mini-vacations. Make of the spires of Thuja what you will. But do notice the silver white bloom of the Pycnanthemum muticum, buzzing with hundreds of bees and wasps, so fragrant it opens the door to another sensual world.
This lawn gives pleasure in many ways, some quite subtle, but you have to bring a certain sensibility, attention to detail, openness, moments of stillness. These little emotional pleasures require a contemplative state of mind, then they come, transient re-cognitions, like meeting dear friends from the past.
Daylilies planted out in the field of grasses are virtually invisible until they bloom. (Some flowers are important, and I want to add 50 or 60 more daylillies.) They offer transient visual delight, surprises, like giving a child a bright colored object.
Moving on to the far end of the garden, where a layer of rock under the surface makes a dryer, leaner planting environment ...
... and the plant community is different. More of the "legacy" plants were left in place (Timothy grass and other pasture grasses, Blue-eyed grass, bracken, assorted Persicaria), so the character of the planting is different.Those tall plants not yet in bloom beside the paving are Inula racemosa 'Sonnenspeer', another prolific self-seeder.
Prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) with big, paddle-shaped leaves gives this area a unique solidity and mass, and a bit of humor. They seem to impose themselves on the landscape, squat down on the ground almost like uninvited guests who decide to take up more room than anyone else. Or like strange animals from another planet.
|Miscanthus 'Silberfeder', daylilies, self-seeded Vernonia, the circle of red logs, Calamagrostis acutifolia 'Karl Foerester', dying Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum), Eryngium yuccafolium (l to r).|
No, I don't imagine I've become Scott Carey when I walk through towering plants, but I do feel some of that sense of mystery and discovery.
Contemplating this scene, watching the changes from season to season, from year to year, I recall those feelings I had over 50 years ago as I watched Scott Carey receding into invisibility.
Here today, gone tomorrow.
The path out ...
... and the path in.
At the end of the movie, Scott Carey stands at the window screen of his basement, about to walk out into the natural world to meet his fate ...
... and he speaks this monologue:
Scott Carey: I was continuing to shrink, to become. . .what? The infinitesimal? What was I? Still a human being? Or was I the man of the future? ... So close – the infinitesimal and the infinite. But suddenly, I knew they were really the two ends of the same concept. The unbelievably small and the unbelievably vast eventually meet – like the closing of a gigantic circle. I looked up, as if somehow I would grasp the heavens. The universe, worlds beyond number, God’s silver tapestry spread across the night. And in that moment, I knew the answer to the riddle of the infinite. I had thought in terms of man’s own limited dimension. I had presumed upon nature. That existence begins and ends in man’s conception, not nature’s. And I felt my body dwindling, melting, becoming nothing. My fears melted away. And in their place came acceptance. All this vast majesty of creation, it had to mean something. And then I meant something, too. Yes, smaller than the smallest, I meant something, too. To God, there is no zero. I still exist!