Diane Meier

Diane Meier

Welcome to Diane’s Blog!

I’ll use this spot to chart what I enjoy and endorse, as we attempt to live a life of style in a culture of business and writing and art. And I hope you join me; share your own stories, insights and ideas about living a creatively expressive life.

If Only What Not To Do: Lessons from a Mid-Century Garden

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Yesterday, a favorite blogger, www.amidlifeofprivilege.blogspot.com, wrote a piece about the imagined gardens of the Betty Draper (via Mad Men) household.

Because of my own professional tangent to that Mad Men world, I found that I hadn't connected much with the personal home-life of the characters. I just wanted them all to go back in the office, where, it seemed, my own real-life had begun. But this blog reminded me that the ideas we took into our lives of promotion and marketing were learned at the most basic levels in the Mid-Century households like those that surround the Mad Men characters.

My parents were different than the Mad Men families we see splashed across the screen. More discrete and more guarded, they managed a kind of polished, conservative, beyond-reproach façade that held their natural creative talents in check, and took years of therapy (and affection) for me to de-code.

Their gardens were only a small fraction of the lessons learned, when I didn't know I was learning lessons at all. And while "Amid Life of Privilege" asks us to remember the Mid-Century gardens of our parents, I will remember one more; our city garden – the domain of my great-grandmother, who against all odds, grew spectacular roses from May to October. The legend surrounding the garden has someone, like James Amster, a friend of Mother's, and the creator of Amster Yard, asking my great grandmother how she managed to grow these roses – healthy, beautiful, rich with color, some as big as baby's heads. "I only grow what loves being here," she explained, with a kind of clean, practical, if sometimes heartless, Yankee efficiency. And that lesson, as much as anything, has become a large part of my own morality.

With that said, here is my memory of my parent's country garden, as prompted by "Privilege":

We spent weekends and summers in Morris County New Jersey -- and very much in the time of the Drapers. When I think of my parent's country property - perched high above a lake and surrounded, for the most part, with woods, the acreage that they chose to control was just that-- controlled. Azaleas ran down the path to the front door, the back terraces were floored in herringbone brick and the pool was dressed in lines of fire bush. A step up to a grove of trees on higher ground was bordered by a defined run of planters that held the expected tulips in Spring, impatiens in Summer and mums in Autumn. If the wild blackberries that grew along the deep length of the post and rail fence, had been a gift of nature, they were certainly not allowed to swallow the fence with their own intended abandon. They were 'controlled' like every other living thing on the property. Very Mid-Century, if you think about it.

Since my parents were both pretty creative interesting characters, I suspect that what I am remembering, is just what "Privilege" is talking about -- a Mid-Century idea of what a garden was "supposed" to look like. A blend of acceptable references that made the gap between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots' blur into a tasteful and controlled ideal.

If others had to push toward some level of public authority, we had to keep a lid on our self-expression, never allowing a hair of ostentatious or "showy" display to mar the perfectly groomed control of our well-bred facade.

This morning as I left our CT property to head back to NYC, I saw the first huge (big as a paper plate) hibiscus bloom of the season, bright and unabashed, in an impossible, almost phony, clown-nose red. It's planted in our Red Garden - a riot of all things red -- roses, lilies, dianthus, hibiscus, fuchscia, clematis, impatiens and more each year - all backed by barberry - with its own red-burgundy foliage.

I know my parents might have come to this eventually, had they lived long enough to enjoy the fun of gardening; just to see what you can actually do when you put a little personal creativity to the task. But back in the 1960's, it must have seemed too dangerous to even think about. Whatever may have made it "not worth the risk", I just can't imagine, but isn't it nice we have the chance now - on our own - to do what we will!

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