The Imaginative Community: Lessons from the Garden

by Stefani Rossi August 20, 2009

When you make things beautiful, people notice. When you craft something out of the ordinary and make it beautiful, they notice, too. This year my roommate and I conspired to plant a garden . . . 

The house in which we live has fabulous flowerbeds that were installed by a horticulturalist who occupied the residence several years before us. But, being people who don’t embrace the value of dreaming small dreams, we decided to dig up half of the mow-able weeds in the front yard in order to sow seeds and transplant green, leafy, flowery, and fruity plants into a larger area.

I have to give credit where credit is due: my roommate really did ½ of the work while I gallivanted all over Tuscany during the early summer weeks. But upon returning home I pitched in, and the curb appeal of our house now boasts four tomato plants, a bean teepee that supports five different varieties of beans, a morning glory that we’ve trained to take over only one corner of the house, Chinese lantern, thriving collard greens, ice plant, columbine, lavender, mint, five different “mystery squash,” zucchini, and numerous hens and chicks that were bestowed on us by a generous neighbor.

Other flora mingles with the above crowd. In the process of tending the plants we find that other people mingle with us, too. Having a front-yard garden that occupies the bulk of the plot gets noticed. Folks who look as though they might never otherwise even make eye contact stop, inquire, chat and eventually invite us to coffee…all because of the garden. Some think it’s beautiful. Others think it’s smart. Bicyclists ring their bells, or call out appreciation for our work. Anyone who regularly strolls by the garden recognizes the transformation that has taken place. And they love it love it. My roommate has dubbed our project the “ambassador to the neighborhood,” and I don’t think she’s incorrect!

Is this phenomenon an “If you build it they will come” sort of thing? I think not. There are lots of beautifully kept lawns and flower beds along our street that don’t seem to elicit the same response. I think that the unanimous appreciation originates in the fact that the garden is out of the ordinary, unexpected, and a pleasant surprise amid manicured lawns (or other patches of mow-able weeds). Passersby encounter anomaly, and that causes them to respond.

I’m sure there are several lessons I could glean from this observable trend. The one most present to my attention regards the potential of art to generate community. When we catch the imagination of those who encounter our work, they might linger, start chatting. They might blossom before our eyes into people who slow down long enough to look, and allow their attention to rest on uncommon beauty. They potentially become a community of attentive people seeking transformation. All because of encountering unexpected art.

Perhaps it is true that “given the proper conditions, any plant will bloom.” Including community!

Wishing you all at least ten reasons to stop and smell the lavender!

~Stefani

p.s. If you would like to read more about art being a vehicle for developing community, a couple of choice reads:
  • Tolstoy's aesthetic philosophy
  • Takin' It To The Streets, by Corbit and Nix-Early



Stefani Rossi
Stefani Rossi

Author

Stefani Rossi studied painting and printmaking at the University of Puget Sound. In 2010 she received her MFA in painting from Colorado State University. Her work has been exhibited nationally in solo and group exhibitions. Stefani has worked with Ruminate Magazine as visual art editor since 2008. More of Stefani’s work can be viewed at www.stefanirossi.com



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