PHYLLIS ODESSEY

Less is Less

 
Morocco:  Courtyards and Gardens
By Achva Benzinberg Stein
Book talk at the Horticultural Society of New York
I went to see pretty pictures of gardens. There were none.  Yet, I was not disappointed.  Less is really less and less is really a lot more was the true subject of Achva Benzinberg Stein’s talk at the Hort Society on Thursday night.
Stein used Morocco, Iran, Spain as places to explore the idea of what a garden is.  Looking back at ancient gardens and the remains of these gardens, Stein’s thesis rested on the concept of oasis.  Oasis defined as a place of respite and reflection.
O A S I S = G A R D E N 
In defining a garden as any place that provides quiet and calm, the garden can be an orchard, a simple reservoir, or a public fountain.  Stein threw down the gauntlet:  Does a garden have to contain plants?
A garden can be any place that brings together people and animals (as in the case of a public fountain) or a garden can be courtyard with a simle potted plant or architecture that provides enclosurer from the outside world.

For me, the most challenging part of Stein’s talk was a garden devoid of nature.  As she passionately pointed out the world of climate change, scarcity of water and other natural resources is here.  By looking back at the gardens of Morocco we can see “gardens” that were created and still function in arid places, and crowded urban environments.  
Even the concept of privacy has changed.  We all wear headphones, creating our own mental landscapes.  These may be the new “gardens of the mind.”  Perhaps, we are no longer dependent on going into a space to be within an insulated realm.
Stein gave an example of a project she gives her students:  make a garden from a degraded piece of land.  I can imagine making a garden from a trashed out piece of ground (at Randall’s Island, we often do) but I find it hard to imagine a garden devoid of plants.  But Stein, may be right, a garden is a concept, not defined by its content. 
 

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