As I mentioned in a previous post about Carol Deppe’s wonderful _The Resilient Gardener_, all garden books are fundamentally local. That localness is why I so love _Gardens of Use and Delight_ by Jigs and Jo Ann Gardner. I discovered this book last year at my local library, and have taken it out half a dozen times, enough that I must, finally, purchase it.
The Gardeners bought an old farm in Cape Breton and gradually, over decades, transformed it into a place that is both beautiful and productive, despite terrible soil, a cold climate and a host of disadvantages. What’s wonderful about the book is that it is a step-by-step explanation of how they integrated beauty and utility into their landscape. They began the project of feeding themselves and their family by necessity in the 1950s, with a host of hungry young kids and a minimal income, and the farm emerged from a mix of necessities – a desire to integrate livestock and gardens into their lives, the need to keep the table full, the desire for beauty and utility, and then an emerging business in herbs, dried flowers and jams.
In some ways, designing a farm is harder than designing a suburban lot – the framework and limitations of a garden and yards are useful – the problem with scope is that it often has too much potential, at least for me. Starting up a big garden, integrating the big vegetable garden with the herb and flower beds, dealing with the challenges of livestock around a garden, making the large whole into something unified – these are projects I am still working on, and I find this book enormously valuable, because it offers a view of how it could be done, and indeed, has been done, not by perfect people with perfect design sense, but by experimenters and explorers rather like me.
Over thirty or more years, they have done what I’m working on doing, more or less, and it is fascinating to watch them explain their process – and their mistakes. I was heartened by this observation, which entirely matches my own experience:
“It was not until the late 1980s, after we had been laboring here for more than fifteen years, that we had learned enough to be fairly certain of what we were doing and could begin to make it clear to ourselves – and then to the reader.”
So much of the emphasis in design rests on the idea that one should be able to understand and anticipate one’s landscape quickly, and for the long term. I’m sure many better gardeners and farmers than I can – but I am grateful to find that beauty and utility are not out of the reach of someone who only begins to know their own goals and work well enough after time to articulate them, and who makes an elaborate repetoir of mistakes on the trip.
When I first arrived here, beauty took a back seat to utility – I was too busy learning to grow vegetables, managing livestock and starting the farm to worry about how it all looked. As time has passed, I’ve developed more aesthetic sense – and a better sense of how beauty and utility work together, but this is the best book I’ve seen on making that happen in a cold climate, on poor soil, with limited resources. They never seem to have had money to throw at their problems, they have always been limited by their place and its climate, and they have used those limits as a framework to create something both artful and beautiful, of which they are justly proud.