Daniel Sparler's garden is a Northwest treasure filled with unusual plants, and he has generously shared it with visitors and local gardeners over the years. Which is why gardeners rallied around (to no avail, it turns out) when the Seattle Parks Department insisted on reclaiming park land by ripping out a shed and gardens already established when Daniel bought the place.....well, I'll let Daniel tell the sad story in a piece originally published in NHS Garden Notes...be sure and check out the discouraging photos, showing Daniel's garden before the Seattle Parks Department had their way with it, and after...
The Consolation of Philosophy (With Apologies to Boëthius): On Latin, Love and Living with Loss
by Daniel Sparler
Damnant quod non intellegunt. (“They condemn what they do not understand.”) —Cicero
When I was a little boy in Arkansas, my obstreperous old daddy—who understood little of philosophy and even less of Latin—would go soft around the edges at the end of the day and usher my brother and me off to bed with the sweet lament that “all good things must come to an end.” Lately I’ve been trying—with limited success—to embrace the meaning of that maxim as the juggernaut of the Seattle Parks Department gears up to obliterate a big chunk of the garden my partner Jeff and I have created and nurtured over the last 17 years.
Urbes constituit aetas: hora dissolvit. (“A city is built in a lifetime, destroyed in an hour.”) —Seneca
For those who have not followed the reports in the Seattle Times, KIRO radio or KOMO television, I will spare you the sordid details. Suffice it to say that one-third of what we thought was our back yard in fact belongs to Seward Park. At this writing the outcome of the property dispute is still uncertain, but our prospects are gloomy. In the grand scheme of things—imminent closure of the venerable Seattle P-I, probable loss of the Flower and Garden Show—our tiny tempest in a teapot is markedly miniscule. Nonetheless, our sense of loss is profound. Our deepest appreciation goes out to the dozens of garden enthusiasts who wrote letters of support to Parks Department officials and Seattle City Council members.
Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodet? (“But who will watch the custodians themselves?”)—Juvenal
The stated goal of the Parks Department is to restore native vegetation along the western border of Seward Park in 11 areas (we are one of these) identified by a recent survey as encroachments. (Given the age of the apple trees in our next door neighbor’s yard, the park boundaries had not been marked by the city in at least half a century.) An anonymous gift of $1 million is funding the replanting operation, but there are no provisions for maintenance. Given the limited staffing of the Parks Department and the absolute lack of maintenance until this year of the parkland next to our yard, we have every reason to believe that any new plantings will soon revert to invasive blackberries (Rubus discolor), ivy (Hedera helix) and bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis).
Saepe creat molles aspera spina rosas. (“Often the prickly thorn produces tender roses.”)
Urticae proxima saepe rosa est. (“The stinging nettle is often next to the rose.”)—Ovid
Although the actual living plants in established beds in our former garden have been granted a reprieve—Parks will allow them to stay—all trellises, plant supports, and most importantly, our entire composting operation and beloved garden shed must go, and in fact most likely will have been demolished by the time this article arrives in your hands, dear readers. The ground underneath the offending structures will be planted with “natives,” and the Parks Department has hinted that they might invite our input. My vote? Go with Ovid’s suggestions: A pretty patch of Urtica dioica, alternating with vigorous clumps of Oplopanax horridus (devil’s club) and punctuated by a bulb or two of Zygadenus venenosus (death camas) thrown in for good measure. All in good fun, of course, and with appropriate warning, to match the prominent “Poison Oak” sign in the park at the base of the slope leading directly up to our yard at the only possible point of access from the park proper.
Omnia mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis. (“All things change and we change with them.”)
Boëthius’ 6th century treatise, Consolatio Philosophiae (The Consolation of Philosophy), teaches that we can never be secure until we have been abandoned by Fortune, that we should not exhaust ourselves by railing against what is beyond our control. December’s arctic blast took out leptospermums and acacias; the Parks Department takes away an exotic garden in order to stick in some sword ferns (Polystichum munitum). As the winter of our discontent (apologies to William Shakespeare and John Steinbeck) yields to the lengthening days of a waxing sun and other benign graces of spring, it will behoove us—after an appropriate period of mourning, of course—to move on in humility and gratitude, with both eyes on the horizon.
Sic transit gloria mundi—(“Thus passes the glory of the world.”)