E.B. White, planning, and plotting the resurrection

Because classes are soon to be upon us, I have reviews long overdue, my students are waiting for feedback, and the book is sitting there, waiting to be worked on, I have, of course, been reading about gardening. Katherine White’s Onward and Upwards in the Garden is a collection of her gardening columns for the New Yorker, and while many of them are charming, and she’s a good writer, I find her tastes and her assertions of her superior tastes oddly irritating. This is her on Peace roses: “Take, for example, the rose called Peace–the “rose of the century” on cataloguer terms it. Everybody knows this huge, rosy-yellow rose, and nearly everybody admires it and tries to grow it. In spite of its lovely colors, I don’t like Peace. Even a small vaseful of peace of Peace roses is grotesque.”

Now, I am 100 percent sure that anybody who thinks Peace roses–sweet, little Peace roses–are “grotesque” really, truly has no sense of what is actually grotesque.

All that said, I am still reading.

Most captivating is the description of Mrs. White from her husband, E.B. White, in the introduction in the way that she stubbornly continued to garden knowing full well she would not see the results:

Armed with a diagram and a clipboard, Katherine would get into a shabby old Brooks raincoat much too long for her, put on a little round wool hat, pull on a pair of overshoes, and proceed to the director’s chair–a folding canvas thing–that has been placed for her at the edge of the plot. There she would sit, hour after hour, in the wind and the weather, while Henry Allen produced dozens of brown paper packages of new bulbs and a basketful of old ones, ready for the intricate internment. As the years went by and age over took her, there was something comical yet touching in her bedraggled appearance on this awesome occasion–the small, hunched over figure, her studied absorption in the implausible notion that there wold be yet another spring, oblivious to the ending of her own days, which she knew perfectly well was near at hand, sitting here with her detailed chart under those dark skies in the dying October, calmly plotting the resurrection.

I know an awful lot of urban planners who are gardeners. Some are gardeners for locavore reasons, and while laudable, I find locavore reasons for gardening to be unconvincing. I can taste no difference between my tomatoes and those from the farmer’s market. My lettuce is great but it’s so damn hot here you can only grow lettuce for a short time before it turns to shoe leather (my yard is brutally sunny).

Instead, those of us planner/gardeners who not motivated by instrumental reasons are constantly intervening to make something nice simply for its own sake. We are simply devoted to the future, knowing full well we don’t control it and yet we can influence it, a little, and that faith in the future is both decent and sustaining.

I often hear that planning is not a “coherent” field, but if I had to lay my bet on what glue ties planners to each other, it is this faith, and perhaps that is enough.