The Blessings of Imagination

…some thoughts sprung by Earth Day…

It is Earth Day as I write this. The first time May 22 was set aside as homage to the fragility and sanctity of our planet was 1970—the same year that Jimmy Hendrix died, the last Beatles album was released and Simon and Garfunkel recorded ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters'. Gaylord Nelson, a Senator from Wisconsin, alarmed by a giant oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, reasoned that if he could channel the energy of the Vietnam War protesters into concerns about pollution then the world would be a place that could be sustained. From that simple and inarguable notion grew both national and international agendas that have reached us all. 

            “What happened to the days when putting out the trash did not require an advanced degree?” my husband said to me as he toted the various trash receptacles bearing the pure garbage and the recycling out to the curb this morning. “It used to take two minutes.” His tone of willing acceptance belied his apparently intransigent words.

            So the grand idea of Earth Day, basic and elegant in its inception, pushed me into thoughts about the power of imagination. As is often the case it took the creativeness and energy of one individual to spring a whole movement.

Life is, of course, full of people who have imagined futures better than the present and those attached to gardens and landscapes bear some thinking about on such an occasion as Earth Day.

In the United States we have the imagination and creativeness of Frederick Law Olmsted whose views of how life should be for everyone were far in advance of his mid 1800s lifetime. His vision of gardens and landscapes as being places of refuge and solace, ‘unconscious recreation’ to use his term, have led to parks all over the country. The Pacific Northwest, with its abundance of Olmstedian landscapes is a case in point. It is hard to imagine our damp, green life without them.

The fellows of the Garden Conservancy movement have been working since 1989 to preserve the historical and worthy gardens around the country. In the Pacifi

c Northwest such treasures as Gaiety Hollow, the Salem, OR, residence and garden of Elizabeth Lord and Edith Schryver, is one recently added to their care. (Lord and Schryver were, unusual for their time, women landscape architects who practiced their profession with notable success.)

At a personal level, the Dunn Gardens had Edward B. Dunn, the larger than life son of the founder of the Dunn Gardens. He was an enthusiastic gardener and lived Earth Day throughout his life with his careful tending of, and respect for, the property he inherited. It was through his imaginative leadership that the Dunn Gardens became a landscape that was a family property but is now accessible to all.

Today the able wisdom of the Curators—Charles Price and Glenn Withey—guides the Dunn Gardens Board in maintaining the historical integrity of the plantings. Their breakout imaginations enable the Gardens to sustain the serenity of an Olmsted space, not to mention a splash of humor in the colorful little corner landscape known as the Curators’ Garden.

In our Centennial year we are encouraging people to look carefully at the Dunn Gardens as a place of imagination. Among those who do so carefully are photographers, some of whom are sending their images into our photography competition. One participant, Maro Kentros, wrote with an entry that on ‘April 9, 2015 it was sunny and warm with no excuse for bad photos and very hard to choose which one to send for everyone to share all the beauty and experience of the meditation of the Gardens.’

That is an endorsement of imagination writ large. We are indeed lucky to be living in a time and country where the beauty of gardens are appreciated. The blessings of the imaginations that have guided us to this place are immense. They even go so far as helping us put our trash out with good grace.