outside in the garden
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Burpee meets Martha Stewart Living
I looked up George Ball Jr., the current head of the Burpee Seed Co.I was trying to find out if the company is now owned by the chemical company, Monsanto, which does own a number of seed companies.
I havent yet discovered what I went for, but did find some pleasant writing by Mr. Ball on the occasion of his visit to Martha Stewart at her Westport, CT home about 16 years ago.He found her likable, shy and attractive.
...Basically, what you see on TV is what Martha truly is. She gardens like a professional - I was very impressed. We visited the henhouses with their little Martha-like designer hens. She showed me their "Martha" eggs -- dappled and speckled in rich colors and shades. Amazing! I immediately fantasized that I'd try to breed and sell baby chicks again, like the original Mr. Burpee back in 1876. I told Martha about how we'd developed many of the strains of poultry she was raising. After I returned home to Warminster and reviewed the costs that would be involved, I abandoned the dream. Martha is a fantasy merchant; she creates wonderful worlds of make-believe and invites her audience to inhabit them for a very pleasant half-hour. It is not unlike the pleasure our customers get when they curl up with the Burpee catalogue or visit our Web site.
When Martha Stewart in turn paid a visit to the Fordhook, PA Burpee farms she picked a verbascum as one of two favorites of the new varieties they were testing that year. Ball remarked that the plant made the test gardens look more natural, less like, well, test gardens.
Traditional perennial borders are tricky to design. One slip of the palette and the result is pure mediocrity with the usual suspects lined up alongside one another, giving the effect of predictability and boredom. Where's the surprise? "Seen one, seen 'em all."
Gardeners should experiment, talk back, disobey an order. Maybe even go AWOL. Anything but the dull "English perennial border" designs that have little or no relationship to the actual site, much less to our North American climate. For beginning gardeners it is especially important to play around and have fun, like a child learning to draw. Establish the ground rules, learn the basics well, and then exercise the imagination. Plant what you like. Let the pundits and snobs lecture on their "rules". Who cares? Discover the flexibility of rules and learn the nuances of your garden as you go along. But "let yourself go." This is the lesson of modernism and it applies to garden design every bit as much as painting, music, or architecture.
To read more of Ball, see a report of conversation at Bard College with an English professor Robert Kelly, under whom he studied while at Bard in the early 1970s.