The green thumb is equable in the face of nature's uncertainties; he moves among her mysteries without feeling the need for control or explanations or once-and-for-all solutions. To garden well is to be happy amid the babble of the objective world, untroubled by its refusal to be reduced by our ideas of it, its indomitable rankness.
Anthropocentric as [the gardener] may be, he recognizes that he is dependent for his health and survival on many other forms of life, so he is careful to take their interests into account in whatever he does. He is in fact a wilderness advocate of a certain kind. It is when he respects and nurtures the wilderness of his soil and his plants that his garden seems to flourish most. Wildness, he has found, resides not only out there, but right here: in his soil, in his plants, even in himself.. But wildness is more a quality than a place, and though humans can't manufacture it, they can nourish and husband it.. The gardener cultivates wildness, but he does so carefully and respectfully, in full recognition of its mystery.
In the same way that the picturesque designers were always careful to include some reminder of our mortality in their gardens -- a ruin, sometimes even a dead tree -- the act of leaving parts of the garden untended, and calling attention to its margins, seems to undermine any pretense to perfect power or wisdom on the part of the gardener. The margins of our gardens can be tropes too, but figures of irony rather than transcendence -- antidotes, in fact, to our hubris. It may be in the margins of our gardens that we can discover fresh ways to bring our aesthetics and our ethics about the land into some meaningful alignment.
Each spring for a period of weeks the imperial gardens were filled with prize tulips (Turkish, Dutch, Iranian), all of them shown to their best advantage. Tulips whose petals had flexed wide were held shut with fine threads hand-tied. Most of the bulbs had been grown in place, but these were supplemented by thousands of cut stems held in glass bottles; the scale of the display was further compounded by mirrors placed strategically around the garden. Each variety was marked with a label made from silver filigree. In place of every fourth flower a candle, its wick trimmed to tulip height, was set into the ground. Songbirds in gilded cages supplied the music, and hundreds of giant tortoises carrying candles on their backs lumbered through the gardens, further illuminating the display. All the guests were required to dress in colors that flattered those of the tulips. At the appointed moment a cannon sounded, the doors to the harem were flung open, and the sultan's mistresses stepped into the garden led by eunuchs bearing torches. The whole scene was repeated every night for as long as the tulips were in bloom, for as long as Sultan Ahmed managed to cling to his throne.