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Thoughts on the Five Seasons Documentary

May 31, 2020

Rating: 5 out of 5.

One of the things I had intended to do with this blog website, was review gardens/tools/books etc. Alas, I have not yet had time. But, since re-watching the Piet Oudolf documentary last month (when it was kindly virtualised by Hauser & Wirth) I cannot stop thinking about some of the quotes throughout the film. Of the different portfolios I have come across, I would say that Oudolf is absolutely my favourite garden designer. He captures the beauty of nature, in a way that we could only dream of seeing in the wild – reflecting an ethereal, harmonious vision. Through recent discussions with fellow ‘plants-people’, I’ve heard mixed opinions on the documentary and how Oudolf is perceived. And either I’m blinded by awe-stricken bias, or I’m equally aloof, but I very much enjoyed the discourse and philosophy his mind seems to emanate. A very thought provoking watch, that really fills you with emotion and inspiration. Not your average ‘Garden Rescue’ transformation, and certainly on a much larger scale, but satisfying none-the-less to see the new project in Somerset unfold. Beyond that, the film is a fascinating watch and did actually make me cry – on several occasions (!) – because it reminded me of all that matters in the world. Plants.

Instead of a straight up review, I’ve picked out 6 favourite quotes that really struck me. Though I (obviously) don’t know the guy, I feel that Oudolf’s words give a glimpse into his outlook on our relationship with nature and life. And maybe I’m projecting, because I certainly feel a strong connection to the things that he says; but I find his words as important as ever. It is a privileged thing to lead a life where you intrinsically feel safe and protected in your every day. The worlds’ recent events have shown the detrimental effect of ego, self righteousness and ignoring our shadow. The global pandemic has taught us many things and amongst those, for me, is the liberty in knowing that most things are transient and ephemeral. We measure time and life by record of the things that we can perceive and understand. Yet, time is not fixed. It is perspective. Life speeds up as we age and where a year once felt like a life time, it is gone in a heartbeat later on. But the green world is forever. It was here long before us and it will be here long after us. We live in it and it lives in us. So with that philosophical ramble out of the way, here are the quotes!

1. Put yourself on a wavelength to feel more than what you first see. 

Gardening is a state of mind. So much research has gone into understanding the benefits that gardening has on our mental health. I even read an article recently about the bacteria in soil doubling up as an anti-depressant (read here). Whatever the outcome of this, I personally believe it to be true that gardening is fantastic for completely and utterly submerging yourself in the present. And once you are in this mindful place, smells, atmosphere and emotion begin to take hold in a way that you did not understand at first.

2. Life is about birth, life and death – so that is the garden too. What we do in our whole life span, happens here in 1 year and that works on your soul. In my own life, at 71, it is moving into the fall. In the garden this is the most beautiful time; but I won’t come back; they (the plants) will.

Self explanatory really. I love the way the film is called the five seasons – recognising the importance of the transition between each season and then back to the ‘beginning’. Last year when I filmed Brodsworth along the timeline of 1 year, I missed this trick of capturing the five seasons (watch here). And arguably, those in between times – marked by the annual equinoxes – are perhaps the most beautiful in the garden. Recognising here, that our lives are a sudden flame, blazing brightly then fading away as natures’ cycle continues on without us. That is a truly beautiful thing.

3. You load yourself up with beauty and you transform that into your work.

There is so much to be said for inspiration. I’m sure every gardener spends their free time exploring their local green spaces & snapping away. My camera roll is 2,000+ deep in daffs, hellebores and bluebells; and I’ve genuinely only had the phone for 6 months. I find Instagram to be a great source of inspiration. The horticultural community online is rife with new ideas, educational posts and alternative points of view. I have an inspiration scrapbook, for designs (natural or man-made) that have particularly moved or overwhelmed me with their beauty. In the knowledge that one day, when I have my own space, I can attempt to recreate those precious moments.

4. If a plant behaves well, it can be in the society as a native.

On the topic of weeds, it reiterates the saying that a weed is a plant in the wrong place. Here, Oudolf makes a fair point. We are very quick to remove ‘weeds’ and thus, often, don’t get to see their full cycle and flower. Various common weeds are actually pretty beautiful – Capsella being a favourite of mine that I love to use in bouquets. That is not to say that we should completely disregard the importance of biosecurity! Invasive species such as Impatiens glandulifera and Rhododendron ponticum are clearly disruptive to native plants. But, so long as a plant behaves itself, maybe we can make time to accept and appreciate it in our space.

5. Plants are a medium to bring out an emotion.

I remember sobbing at the crocus in Spring and thinking to myself “get a life”. But truly, that is living. Nature provokes emotion in us that I don’t personally understand, nor will ever fully comprehend. But emotion rises and falls and it’s connection to nature should not be overlooked. I read a book recently on ‘Plant Lore and Legend‘ which contained some fascinating stories about how flowers are used to convey messages; and thus, provoke feelings in others when given as gifts. For example, a bouquet of sweet peas, bindweed, forget-me-nots and plum blossom served as a reminder to its’ receiver to ‘remember their binding promise and meet tonight’. This tradition of floral language has certainly been jettisoned from a collective knowledge, but the ability of plants to provoke emotion has not.

6. I think it’s the journey in your life to find out what real beauty is, of course; but also, to discover beauty in the things that – on the first sight – are not beautiful.

This really resonated with me. As an (overly) keen instagram user, it often takes me by surprise when I flick back through my camera roll and see things that I never saw before. I always say that there is a difference between listening and hearing, in the same way that there is a difference between looking and seeing. Out of season, we can appreciate the beauty of that which we did not see before. Not always because of our ignorance, sometimes because within the present moment we were so overwhelmed or entirely consumed by certain elements, that we neglected others. Phlomis seed heads in the winter frost; flowers of the ash tree springing to life in April; fronds uncurling in the woodland; all things I have been guilty of overlooking. Because, often, we cannot see the forest for the trees. Taking time to appreciate bare structures and seasonal die back provides endless benefits – for wildlife too.

I know this blog is somewhere between a review and a chance to indulge my own opinions, putting ‘pen to paper’ as it were. But it felt good to get it down in writing and acknowledge Piet Oudolf for the deep and delicate Scorpio that he is. Take from it what you will, it’s just my opinion after all. Keep it real x

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