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The Good-for-Nothing Garden



Would you grow a good for nothing garden?
The best kind of garden is a useless garden quotes James Golden speaking of his green parcel, in the quiet hummocks above the Delaware River, it is literally good for nothing. He has made sure of it. It serves no purpose except an emotional one.     

“I don’t want it for anything utilitarian at all.”      In other words, Mr. Golden’s garden is useless, except as an all-encompassing creation that fills his days and reveals his innermost feelings to the world.
 










 
Mr. Golden does not grow vegetables. He leaves the farming to the farmers. If he wants to cook or dine, he’ll do it in the house. And although he is 68 and seemingly into his hammock years, he doesn’t maintain a lawn for sitting. There is no tetherball pole. He leaves the entertaining to the entertainers. But useless is not the same as meaningless. Mr. Golden was puttering around the mahogany-paneled parlor, looking for one of his favorite books, by the designer Rory Stuart, titled “What Are Gardens For?” Though the garden, called Federal Twist, is at the center of Mr. Golden’s life, he admits that he has trouble formulating an answer.
“I would say the main purpose of this garden is aesthetic, ornamental, even emotional,” he said. “And I don’t think most Americans think of gardens in those terms at all.”  Mr. Golden invites the curious public to visit as part of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program. (Tickets are $5.) Agnostics can inhale the fragrance of the JPEGs on his blog, View From Federal Twist. Taking in the scene evokes the breathless rush through the fabric store Mood on “Project Runway.” Like the endless bolts of cloth, there are grasses here that shimmer and grasses that undulate, grasses that you’d like to feel caressing your neck and grasses you might don as a hair shirt. (Mr. Golden also maintains a judicial list of fashion crimes; for years, he rejected all yellow blooms as “brash.”)
      
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The grass is a hint: The garden at Federal Twist is meant to be a prairie — or a prairie masquerade. It is an ecosystem that most likely never existed here on the edge of a shaded woodland.
Mr. Golden has sowed native plants by the thousands. But he is not restoring a pristine habitat. When he started landscaping here, eight years ago, he cleared 80 scrub cedars to bring in light. A good part of the garden grows over his septic field.
The plants he prizes bear the oversize, fantasy foliage of a Maurice Sendak dreamscape. “I don’t care that much about flowering,” he said. “I’m much more into dead plants and seed pods” — or rattling calyxes that look as if they might contain goblin teeth. If this is a prairie, it is a prairie of the imagination.
      
A garden, Mr. Golden said, should be a place “to sit in, think about, look at the sky in, live in. In my case, it’s sort of a psychological exploration of the hidden, the part of myself that never got expressed because I was such a timid, shy little boy. I learned to adapt over the years to living in the world. On sunny days, when the garden is in full growth, it’s quite exuberant and in-your-face. It’s pretty much the opposite of my personality.”
In other words, Mr. Golden’s garden is useless, except as an all-encompassing creation that fills his days and reveals his innermost feelings to the world.
      

And the world, for once, is listening. William Martin, an iconoclastic gardener and lecturer in rural Australia, discovered the Federal Twist blog and now counts himself among an international fan club. “It’s not really about horticulture,” he said of Federal Twist. (“Haughty-culture,” is the way Mr. Martin pronounces it, although this could be an accident of his Scottish and Australian upbringing.)
Though his own dry-climate garden, Wigandia, showcases vastly different plants, Mr. Martin reports that the two often correspond about “gardens as places for the mind instead of places for shovel and spade.”

   
Mr. Golden does not grow vegetables. He leaves the farming to the farmers. If he wants to cook or dine, he’ll do it in the house. And although he is 68 and seemingly into his hammock years, he doesn’t maintain a lawn for sitting. There is no tetherball pole. He leaves the entertaining to the entertainers. But useless is not the same as meaningless. Mr. Golden was puttering around the mahogany-paneled parlor, looking for one of his favorite books, by the designer Rory Stuart, titled “What Are Gardens For?” Though the garden, called Federal Twist, is at the center of Mr. Golden’s life, he admits that he has trouble formulating an answer.
“I would say the main purpose of this garden is aesthetic, ornamental, even emotional,” he said. “And I don’t think most Americans think of gardens in those terms at all.”  Mr. Golden invites the curious public to visit as part of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program. (Tickets are $5.) Agnostics can inhale the fragrance of the JPEGs on his blog, View From Federal Twist. Taking in the scene evokes the breathless rush through the fabric store Mood on “Project Runway.” Like the endless bolts of cloth, there are grasses here that shimmer and grasses that undulate, grasses that you’d like to feel caressing your neck and grasses you might don as a hair shirt. (Mr. Golden also maintains a judicial list of fashion crimes; for years, he rejected all yellow blooms as “brash.”)
      
Order Now for Fall Planted Bulbs for Your Spring Garden, only at Burpee.com!Burpee.com - Tomato HP Logo

The grass is a hint: The garden at Federal Twist is meant to be a prairie — or a prairie masquerade. It is an ecosystem that most likely never existed here on the edge of a shaded woodland.
Mr. Golden has sowed native plants by the thousands. But he is not restoring a pristine habitat. When he started landscaping here, eight years ago, he cleared 80 scrub cedars to bring in light. A good part of the garden grows over his septic field.
The plants he prizes bear the oversize, fantasy foliage of a Maurice Sendak dreamscape. “I don’t care that much about flowering,” he said. “I’m much more into dead plants and seed pods” — or rattling calyxes that look as if they might contain goblin teeth. If this is a prairie, it is a prairie of the imagination.
      
A garden, Mr. Golden said, should be a place “to sit in, think about, look at the sky in, live in. In my case, it’s sort of a psychological exploration of the hidden, the part of myself that never got expressed because I was such a timid, shy little boy. I learned to adapt over the years to living in the world. On sunny days, when the garden is in full growth, it’s quite exuberant and in-your-face. It’s pretty much the opposite of my personality.”
In other words, Mr. Golden’s garden is useless, except as an all-encompassing creation that fills his days and reveals his innermost feelings to the world.
      


And the world, for once, is listening. William Martin, an iconoclastic gardener and lecturer in rural Australia, discovered the Federal Twist blog and now counts himself among an international fan club. “It’s not really about horticulture,” he said of Federal Twist. (“Haughty-culture,” is the way Mr. Martin pronounces it, although this could be an accident of his Scottish and Australian upbringing.)
Though his own dry-climate garden, Wigandia, showcases vastly different plants, Mr. Martin reports that the two often correspond about “gardens as places for the mind instead of places for shovel and spade.”

 



Published: October 16, 2013  

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