The Absence of Gardeners

July 04, 1996|By John Brain

One of the firsit things I noticed on revisiting my erstwhile homeland, the town of Working in the County of Surrey, England, was the gardens -- not only the gardens of the private homes but also the gardens in the public parks. They were well-tended and full of flowers, reminders of the natural beauty that springs from the earth, given a little encouragement.

The second was the presence of gardeners, public employees working singly and in groups, planting, weeding, watering, tending the gardens that the county council and the citizens agreed were worthwhile assets to the community and a good way to spend their taxes.

In my north Baltimore community of Govans, as I dutifully walk my dogs every evening, I see a few private gardens with flowers, but when I reach the public park, there are none. The park is a wasteland, literally a no-man's-land. The shrubs are unkempt, falling across the path; the flower boxes are overgrown with weeds; and there's trash everywhere -- fast food refuse, bottles shrouded in paper bags, and broken glass. Clearly this community cares little for its public parks and does not think it worthwhile to spend tax dollars on them. And there are no gardeners.

Gardeners are needed to tend gardens, but they also serve to reassure the public that gardens are there to be enjoyed and a safe and pleasant place to be. Gardeners are also guardians, not obtrusive guards likek armed police, reminders of disorder and the need for protection, but quiet ministers to the needs of the flowers and shrubs who look up and say `good day` as you pass.

And where they are, many do pass, strolling in the park and pushing strollers with kids in tow, people who also assure the gardeners their work is appreciated, people who pay their wages and think taxes well spent.

A lot about a society

The presence or absence of gardeners says a lot about a society. Aristocracies have always enjoyed gardens and employed legions of gar deners. Democracies that inherited an aristocratic tradition also inherited gardens and chose to cultivate them for the common people.

But a society founded on resistance to taxes disguised as liberty has little interet in the commonweal or common anything and even less in flowers and gardens. All government is an imposition, and every citizen's first priority is hold fast to his hard-earned dollars. So while the parks run to seed and fill with litter, those who could tend them are either unemployed or fill the jails, costing much more to incarcerate than to employ.

As I lead my dogs through the darkling park I usually see no one, but tonight is different. There is a solitary figure standing in the grove. He is no gardener, and I'm apprehensive. As I approach he stuffs something in his pocket and turns away. I'm glad to have big Harley on the leash and hurry on. The broken glass crunches underfoot.

In 1776 independence sounded like a good idea. That was then; this is now.

Pub Date: 7/04/96

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