The Garden of Manners

I wonder sometimes how spectators felt as they exited the Roman Forum, having observed, say, a Christian eaten by a lion, or two gladiators battling to a bloody death. Did they depart with hearts aflutter, exultant spirits and a bounce to their step? Did they head off to a tranquil taverna and bask in the glow of the day’s revelry?

The Roman spectators, I imagine, felt ghastly–as if part of themselves had been consumed by the lion, or conversely, they themselves had engaged in cannibalism. I imagine that they were enveloped in a dank cloud of shame and self-recrimination–the climate that holds when our lowest natures have been evoked.

I think I know the feeling. Today our media has become an electric Roman Forum, where notions of decorum and dignity have been supplanted by coarseness and brutishness.

On CNN, Fox news and MSNBC–all ostensibly dedicated to informing the public of the news of the world–one is treated instead to a daily carnival of grotesques, a daily food fight of ill-considered, ill-expressed opinions delivered with a shout. It matters not whether the views reflect those of the right or left. Bill O’Reilly, Keith Olbermann, Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow all convey the same message: talk, don’t listen; defame, don’t defer; discord trumps discourse.

The American public has followed these talking heads into the Tower of Babel that is the new media. Glance at the readers’ online postings affixed to an article at the Washington Post or any major online media outlet, and the same willful crudeness and misapprehension is everywhere in evidence. Hiding behind the anonymity of a screen name, impervious to the consequences of their rudeness, I can hear America whinging.

It used to be said that Americans were rude when young, and polite when grown up. Europeans, by contrast, were polite children who grew into rude adults. I do not think that matters–or manners–remain that clear-cut today.

To the contemporary mind, manners can seem like an incursion on democracy, an arbitrary, restrictive code imposed from without that stifles expression and spontaneity. In this view, manners are inauthentic, insincere contrivances employed to indicate class or status–a velvet glove with which to club the less sophisticated into submission.

Some confuse manners with etiquette, its close relative. Writing thank you letters (Napoleon wrote,: “A letter not answered in five days, answers itself.”), properly setting a table and correctly serving tea are all fine things. One might observe all these niceties with utter fidelity and yet never rise to the magnificence of manners.

True manners are far from a cultural ready-made; they are in fact a triumph of the imagination. They stem from an understanding and respect for the feelings of others. They are the Golden Rule in action: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Too Biblical? I offer you Confucius, “Do not do to others, what you would not have them do unto you.”

The Republic of Manners is altogether democratic. Manners are oblivious to considerations of income, class and education. As any reader of history knows, Royalty and Aristocracy have supplied us with boors of legendary crassness and brutality. As any observer of mankind can attest, people of slender means, possessing little else, can be rich in sublime manners and unbought grace.

Which brings us, naturally, to the garden. The Garden of Eden, we recall, is where sin was born, when Adam and Eve defied God’s injunction and ate of the Apple of Knowledge. “In Adam’s Fall, we sinned all.” Bad manners are the bitter fruit of this mother of all faux-pas.

The garden also represents a perfect testing ground for manners. Here, so unlike cyberspace, every insult, every sin of omission and commission becomes a cause with palpable effect. Act thoughtlessly or impetuously and the effects of your action are readily reflected in the health of your plants and flowers. Nature is exacting in matters of etiquette; ignore this fact and your garden will devolve in a wasteland. The garden is not just a refuge from civilization; it is civilization’s sanctuary.

Thus, I give you The Garden Of Manners—as simple and effective a pre-school as these economically troubled times allow a young family.  A Victorian writer wrote, “Let us repair to a cool place of retreat at the point of interrogation.” In these parlous times, let us pay heed. Ladies and Gentlemen, shall we take a look about the garden?

This entry was posted on Thursday, March 12th, 2009 at 8:53 pm and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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89 Responses to “The Garden of Manners”

  1. TC said:

    Our Roman Forum is Television. One only has to look at the popularity of extreme fighting to see the resemblance. I think those Forum spectators were probably just as entertained as we are today watching and attending extreme fighting. I’m not a huge fan, but I will admit to pausing for a few minutes when I land on a channel showing it. Isn’t it part of what makes us human, the nature of the beast if you will? I imagine some are aghast at these type of shows, but for entertainment value, c’mon George, you know what folks like to see; blood and guts.

    I watch Morning Joe on MSNBC and this morning one of the guests said, in so many words, that no one wants to hear good news all the time because it’s banal. And even though you might be right about the “Tower of Babel that is the new media,” news is news and folks will either listen or not.

    We’ve been trying to keep subjectivity out of broadcast journalism ever since those days of the Roman Forum. I can imagine the Forum sports announcer sounding much like one you hear today calling a fight or even something less violent, like a basketball game (I’m sure you’ve heard Dick Vitale’s excited courtside calls).

    Finally, I’m sure you realize there is more than one definition of manners. Look in any wildflower garden and you’ll likely see a “customary mode of acting” that is quite rude; all sorts of flowers mixed in, vines crossing this way and that, it’s hard to tell if any of those plants have “manners.” There is no place for manners in the wildflower garden.

  2. George said:

    Thanks, T.C. Great points. However, I can’t stand TV and only a bit of radio from time to time. I’ve had enough blood and guts to last a thousand lifetimes, so no, I disagree because I believe the flame of our soul should point upwards. I much prefer the moderate exchange of views, especially in public. Raised voices are ok if rare and behind closed doors. That’s civilization for me. Thanks again.

  3. Mary A. Ruther said:

    If it was possible for us to number the particles of our Earth, even millions of earths like this, it would not even be a beginning to the number of natural creations; our Creator is kind forever.
    What kind of Creator would you like to be? There is no end to the good we can create, to the influence we can have with others. There is so much hatred in the world, created with an adversarial “manner”. “Involved in terrible wars with lives lost and many crippling wounds, we’ve become after the “manner”of jealousy, pride, arrogance, and carping criticism. Racial strife still lifts its ugly head. Miracles can happen, when there is kindness, respect, and love.”GBH As I work with seeds, earth, water, and hope, I marvel at miraculous gifts all around. The “manner” of wisdom ought give us an intelligent kindness, toward others and our Earth, forever.

  4. George said:

    Dear Mary – Thanks for your usual quiet words of wisdom. I watch Planet Earth when I can catch it in a hotel room TV. You remind me of that show.

  5. Audrey Rae said:

    Hello George,

    We garden on 4+ acres in Poquoson, VA and we enjoy your ‘Heronswood Voice’.

    Over the years you’ve written eloquently on a variety of Garden topics, most recently today’s well-stated ‘Garden of Manners’.

    We’d like to suggest a future blog on the widening wasteland of HGTV’s Garden Programming.

    Background: Some twelve years ago we signed-up for Direct-TV, hoping that Home & Garden TV would help fill the winter void between issues of ‘Fine Gardening’ and other garden magazines. At that time, there were two wonderful Saturday morning programs for serious gardeners: ‘The Gardener’s Journal’, from Canadian Broadcasting, followed by Erica Glasner’s ‘The Gardener’s Diary’ as the two hosts made extended visits to beautiful gardens. But then, when the BBC scored a hit with their ‘surprise garden’ makeovers, HGTV responded with never-ending American rip-offs that featured giddy hosts, want to-be comedians and pathetic transformations from weed patch to beauty in just one day. Along the way, there was a brief Martha Stewart garden show, but during the past decade, there’s been little TV for serious gardeners other than a few Saturday programs on PBS. When we wrote HGTV to bemoan their garden coverage, we received a form thank-you e-mail confirming that our correspondence had made it to their ‘delete’ file. Perhaps a George Ball input would have more success?

    With best wishes from Audrey Rae and Steve.

  6. George said:

    Dear Audrey

    Hello and thanks very much for reading our blog.

    You make an excellent point about the “vast wasteland” of HGTV. They had a good thing in the mid and late 90s also, as I recall. Recently (last summer) I gave up television and just never went back “on”, so to speak. I started writing a book.

    I’ve protested mildly about newspapers, magazines and radio having mostly very poor garden writers and broadcasters, with a few exceptions here and there. Honestly, I’m not sure I even had a point. Here’s why: outside Swain on Victory Garden and somewhat also Vila on TOH, there’s not been much effective new media. Podcasts aren’t too effective either, at least none I know. So, I am not sure gardening works too well for tv broadcasters. I even tried a show in 99. Did three segments, one perfect and finished, took it to NATPE, a key industry conference in New Orleans and got zip.

    I was shocked how uninterested tv folks were in gardening. The pilots lost us a bundle.

    I may take you up on the idea of a post about it. Thanks for the suggestion. If I get any more ideas, I’ll let you know. Please stay in touch.

    Thanks again, and happy gardening.

    George Ball

  7. Dale & Jean McElhany said:

    We could not agree more. Our greatest pleasure is in turning off the TV and getting to work in the garden.

    Dale & Jean

  8. George said:

    Dear Dale & Jean – Thanks and happy gardening!

  9. Ruth said:

    Thank you so much for saying so beautifully what I have been feeling for so long. Oh, how I long for a quiet warm summer evening in the quiet of the garden. Do you think perhaps that those who are so graphic and noisy have never experienced the beauty of silence and are uncomfortable when forced to be in it’s presence?

  10. George said:

    Thanks, Ruth. I think they’re selling toothpaste, as they say. Bread and circuses. When they garden they will becalm themselves. This is our mission.

  11. Marika Ujvari said:

    I LOVE your blogs! Have you thought about publishing all of them in a book? I would be the first one to buy it!

  12. George said:

    Dear Marika – You are too kind! Thank you for the approbation. I’ll think it over.

  13. bfish said:

    I want to strongly second Audrey Rae’s comments (excellent post). She has perfectly described the downward spiral of HGTV gardening shows. “A Gardener’s Diary” was the high point; one could learn so much about plants and practices from watching it, gain inspiration, and fantasize about having a garden beautiful enough to make Erica want to visit.

    When “Ground Force” came on BBCA I loved it and learned a lot from it too, especially about hardscaping. Trying to bring it to America, however, fell flat for me. As Audrey Rae notes, HGTV tried to copy it with all of their own makeover shows and I rapidly lost interest. To me, garden makeover shows are insidiously misleading — to ensure the made-over garden is instantly lush, plants are crammed in so close together that at least every other one would later need to be moved (in real life, that is). Well, I suppose that aspect could be beneficial to the green industry as it will sell more plants to the novice gardeners (;-) George).

    George, I’m sorry that your show never reached its potential audience. There must be more than a few of us who, like Audrey Rae and myself would like to augment ‘Fine Gardening’ and books with expert and realistic gardening TV, to create some demand for quality programming.

    bfish — another gardener in VA

  14. George said:

    Dear bfish – Thanks for your feedback. A garden show should be rather soft and quiet. Poetic in tone and mood and moderate tempo. The messages are subtle, unless it’s a vegetable show, when the pace should quicken. Otherwise, you’ll entertain non-gardeners with schtick. Thanks again.

  15. Cathy said:

    How refreshing to read a well-written, thoughtful article on the web! I have recently been transplanted to the South from California, and have been overwhelmed by the “manners” of the people here. At first it felt very stifling, having come from an environment where most people speak first and think later. However, I have come to see the beauty of Southern manners, and now appreciate it anew. And what a great corollary to the garden! So true! God Bless!

  16. George said:

    Dear Cathy – Thanks for the nice compliment. About manners, I couldn’t agree more. I was shocked when I left my southern mom’s household for boarding school. Other kids were so rude that it was at first very disturbing—I didn’t know how to act. Everytime I return to the south, I want to “burn my bags” because I’m “home”. The only place comparable is India, oddly enough. Friendliest people in the world, after southerners.

  17. William Churchill said:

    Thank you.

  18. George said:

    You’re very welcome.

  19. Debby Storey said:

    I hope you publish this in more places than a garden blog!! All should read this manners article.

    I have been thinking the same thing–we are sinking to a new low with our rudeness and adoration of all the talking heads that play upon emotions. Both sides are at fault.

    How do we stop it?

    What ever happened to the “Golden Rule” or honesty or decency or ethical business practices?

  20. George said:

    Dear Debby – I suggest removing television from the house. It has an extraordinarily salutary effect, much like cutting down on salt or fat. Cold turkey is best. It reminds me of the plant experiments where they played loud music to some and they became twisted and stunted, while they played classical music to others and they grew well. Thanks and happy gardening.

  21. Martha said:

    A wonderful and thoughtful post, George, as so many of yours are.

    Every sentence kept me picturing precisely the reason many of us find gardening such as oasis after retiring from the battlefields of work life.

    Creating harmony and beauty on our own little place in the world where only Mother Nature can interfere, has become our peaceful interlude before we ourselves are planted.

    We grow, write and teach about plants, gardens, butterflies. We go to talks about the same topics to be with like minded people. Who needs tv?

  22. George said:

    Dear Martha – Perfectly stated. Thanks very much for the compliment also.

  23. Carol and Jack Miner said:

    Your essay was beautifully written and full of truths. With regret on our part, America is changing into an ugly government and society before our eyes. How do we get all these media persons and legislators interested in gardening? or do we begin protesting by quietly voting them out of their jobs!?

  24. George said:

    Dear Carol & Jack – Thanks much for your thoughts. I’ll work on the gardening part. I stopped watching TV last summer, but I still see it in bars, airports and hotels. I agree—it’s ugly. Thanks again.

  25. Dolores said:

    Thanks so much for your always-interesting comments! I enjoy reading them and love your eloquence in writing!

    On another note, I’m saddened to see the lack of bees in my backyard. The borage is in abundance, and in spring the bees have usually been humming their way through my garden. Lately I’ve seen very few and in fact noticed a bee that was dying on the concrete. Scientific American has a good article this month about CCD. What can be done? I also live not far from fields where spraying of crops takes place, and neighbors have launched a protest in the past because of the stench and harm this causes. Do you have any suggestions?

  26. George said:

    Dear Dolores – I greatly appreciate the compliment. I know nothing about the bee problem, but I’ll ask my research staff to respond ASAP. Stay tuned and thanks.

  27. Jane bowell said:

    Bravo!

  28. George said:

    Grazie!

  29. Jenny Sawyer said:

    B R A V O… Recently, two of my grandaughters were visiting and we decided to host a tea party for 5 of my friends…invitations sent by email , typed by the 8 year old; silver polished by all, 5 year old too; lemon squares baked; strawberries arranged on a favorite plate; jelly beans and easter M&Ms in newly polished “fancy” dishes; table laid and arranged by the girls..

    Their main learning curve came when I reminded the girls that when they wished another treat of some sort, they needed to pass to all the guests first…”why do we have to take care of the grownups” asked the 5 year old…”Because it is nice to do”…

    As each guest arrived, the children’s eyes widened…Small gifts were presented to each of the girls by all my friends…even the cleaning up was a cheery event and doing something nice for grownups was indeed a treat!!…

  30. George said:

    Dear Jenny – You win best post of the year! Please write again. Thank you.

  31. Peggy Vicknair said:

    Have to disagree on Rachel Maddow.

  32. George said:

    Thanks, Peggy.

  33. Marilynne VenJohn said:

    HGTV has turned into NOTHING!! Two programs are worth watching. Paul James at 6:30 on Sunday morning, and Gardener’s Diary at 6:00 on Thursday. It’s like they want to punish us by the times they have them on.

  34. George said:

    Thanks, Marilynne. Write HGTV with your thoughts too.

  35. Mária said:

    Audrey Rae, hear, hear! I’ve also been bemoaning this fact!!!

  36. George said:

    Thanks, Maria.

  37. ginny said:

    hello
    I am a professor of American history and a gardener. I look to my garden for peace and serenity. Please don’t add politics to it.
    And BTW, from the early American Republic, Americans were arguing about politics and going after each other. See the Federalist papers and other writings of the founders.
    best
    ginny

  38. George said:

    Thanks, Ginny. I can’t help protest our culture once in a while. I just wish the quarrels weren’t 24/7 on the TV, radio and Internet. I don’t mind a bit of coarseness in print. But newspapers are dying, so it seems different in 2009 than in 1809, to me at least. Thanks again.

  39. Susan said:

    Hello, George -

    I am in complete agreement with this most recent blog of yours, and with Audrey Rae about the joke that HGTV has become. With regard to your points – it’s absolutely appalling how uncivilized our world has become. I’d estimate that 99% of what’s on TV and video games is absolute garbage. It’s no wonder that kids and young adults go on killing rampages; that’s the reality that they grow up with from the cradle. And from what I’ve seen, no one is teaching them manners of any kind! I swear, if I had kids they’d hate me, because I would raise them as I was raised: strict (but loving), insistence on good manners and doing the right thing. Yet having said that, I think there’s still hope. All my friends kids are just about grown, and they were raised pretty much as I described my upbringing – and they’ve become wonderful, responsible adults. Perhaps the pendulum can swing back the other way…..

    As far as HGTV goes: well, someone at least needs to tell them to take the word “garden” out of their title, because it’s become nonexistent! Unfortunately now, the only remotely decent shows on are P. Allen Smith (who can get a bit wearing) and “Cultivating Life” on PBS’s create channel. Other than that, not much. (Don’t even get me started on the current incarnation of the Victory Garden – Michael Weishan, in my humble opinion, is an idiot, and the whole thing has gotten to a level that isn’t even worthy of novice gardeners.)

    And that’s sufficient from me, I think!

    Have a good gardening year -
    Susan from the Finger Lakes in NY

  40. George said:

    Dear Susan – Thanks much for your thoughtful post. Strictness is love in my book also. I see it coming back into popularity, and not a moment too soon. As far as HGTV goes, it’s impossible to comment because I hardly ever watched it. I will say that Allie Lewis at Martha Stewart’s food show was an effective presenter. Not sure she’s a gardener. Not even sure she’s still on. Thanks again and happy gardening.

  41. Richard said:

    You are certainly right about the shouting nature of news commentary–attention-getting, divisive yelling rather
    cool-headed discourse.

    I had the good fortune to visit Rome several years ago and saw some dried seed heads of acanthus among the ruins in a forgotten corner of the Forum. It took a lot of will power not to bring some of those seeds home! I imagined they were descended from plants that witnessed the gore and glory of “Ancient Rome. Gladiators were forced to battle to their bloody deaths in the Colosseum. The Forum was the civic and religious center of the city.

  42. George said:

    WOW. Acanthus was a holy plant, wasn’t it? It was used in art and icons. I’d have hocked a few seeds, perhaps. Do you remember that in 1972, Gore Vidal and W.F. Buckley hosted the news coverage of the presidential election that year? Imagine public intellectuals of that caliber on TV today—impossible! I hope we’re not lost forever. Thanks very much, Richard.

  43. Lois Lenzi said:

    I will not yell or talk too much today, but soon wander in my garden and listen to the birds and hope to hear the hoo hoo of the pair of Great Horned Owls nearby. May each of you be able to walk away from your TV, Blackberry, I-pods and listen to the birds songs and the wind or nothing…but silence and reflect on George Bell’s
    thoughts.

  44. George said:

    Thanks, Lois, I feel better already just reading your “life recipe”.

  45. L. Jaudes said:

    Highlight of opening e-mails is finding your messages on line – packed with pearls of wisdom!

  46. George said:

    Many thanks, L.J. Happy gardening.

  47. rose zaborowski said:

    its a good thing the news people keep us informed or we would be abunch of weeds and no flowers

  48. George said:

    Rose – Thanks for your piquant thought. Weeds have flowers too, don’t forget. Thus, the media pollinate our minds with unwanted news, to me at least, from time to time. I read The Economist. TV is horrible now (just like tobacco smoke) after seven months trash-free. And just like when I got some of my nose back when I quit smoking, I have gotten some sanity back. Thanks again.

  49. Steve McNew said:

    Gee, George – do we do any benefit by a simple retreat to the garden? Could we follow it with a conversation on a shady bench, hoping to wnwind someone else, who may have been bound up a bit too tightly? Or just sharpen the hoe, and name the weeds we chop…

  50. George said:

    Thanks very much, Steve, for your extraordinary post. Please come again.

  51. Carolyn Pearl said:

    Dear George, Your last email was wonderful and I intend to send it on to friends and family. Thank you,

  52. George said:

    Dear Carolyn – You are kind to do so. Thanks much. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  53. Your comments on manners in society and in the garden inspire me and validate me personally and professionally. I was presented with insights, almost as if my life flashed into perspective right before my eyes. A big WOW! So thats why I…..

    My nursery, our gardens, horticulture and growing plants are my life. What was once a lawn with several dying fruit trees is now bamboo gardens with banana trees, pond and woodland plants, blueberries, pineapple guavas, strawberry guavas, wolfberries and kiwis. I grow worms for vermi-compost, chickens for eggs and manure.

    A small nursery blends perfectly into our refuge and sanctuary. This sanctuary is where I call home. Ettiquete is “Please stay on the paths, ask if you want to take cuttings and enjoy the beauty.”

    Thanks for your comments.
    Kenan Rowlett

  54. George said:

    Dear Kenan – Thank you for your lovely post. Please let me know how your garden grows from time to time. Sounds like a fantastic Rousseau painting.

  55. Mother Nectaria, unworthy nun said:

    I am an Orthodox Christian nun, and in full agreement with George’s comments on the media. I recently moved to a small house on an island in the Northwest Puget Sound area and each day drink in the beauty that God has provided and the silence of a peaceful neighborhood. The opportunity to begin gardening, creating (by God’s grace) a wildlife-friendly habitat, full of bird and butterfly favorites, is truly a blessing. I would expand a bit, though, on George’s comments: the problem is more than just the “talking heads” of the media, it’s also, as I think one of the other replies mentioned, a problem of people needing to be plugged into something at all times — ipods, cell phones, etc. The violence, crudity, and interactive nature of video games is terribly harmful. Silence and looking inward is a thing our young people have no experience of now. I pray that young families will start gardens and keep the TV and the video games out of, or at least minimized in, their children’s lives. Prayer and gardening are, in my experience, the very best antidote to this generation.

  56. George said:

    Thank you, Sister.

  57. Marian Moody said:

    Amen to your comments about manners. It is the great equalizer. However, you are probably preaching to the choir. It seems that gardening people are calm, courteous, serene people, and whether it is these people that are drawn to gardening, or whether the gardening brings people to a calm, courteous and serene place, that indeed is the real question.

  58. George said:

    Good point. I disagree a bit about gardening people, at least regarding a few I’ve met. But your message is loud and clear here at Heronswood. Every day we strive to get the word out. Thanks much.

  59. Inez Austin said:

    You forgot to mention Lou Dobbs. He is one of the nastiest name callers on TV.

    But please,let’s leave politics out of the garden, it is the one place I can go for peacefulness when I can’t stand it anymore.

  60. George said:

    Thanks, Inez. Yes, I’ve heard him on airport TVs and I flee for the nearest corner of the waiting area. And, fear not Inez, I’m just getting a bit of “cabin fever” out of my system. OK? Thanks again.

  61. Annie Buckley said:

    Dear Mr. Ball,

    I deeply appreciate the sentiments you have expressed in your essay “The Garden of Manners.” I plan to send it on to several friends who I know will also enjoy it. I have just one question, and it concerns a single word. At the end of the fifth paragraph you say, “I can hear America whinging.” Is this a typo, or is “whinging” an actual word that I just haven’t heard of until now?!

    Thanks for all your interesting writings.

    Annie Buckley,
    Fellow gardener and writer in Denver

  62. George said:

    Dear Annie
    It’s spelled “whingeing”, actually first choice, with “whinging” second choice. I think that’s right but am not sure, and too crazily busy to check. It’s different from “whining”. I used it to sound a bit like “singing” (as in I hear America singing) even though it’s pronounced a bit differently. Close enough. Maureen Dowd uses it occasionally, which is where I found it first. Just a literary reference. Bit of a stretch, perhaps. But fun. Thanks.

  63. Joan Rosenfelt said:

    From your piece: I offer you Confucius, “Do not do to others, what you would not have them do unto you.” (By the way, a comma is not necessary there – in fact, it’s incorrect as it makes the statement confusing.)

    I don’t know if Confucius actually uttered these words but they are definitely the words of the great Jewish sage, Hillel in the first century, c.e., who was asked to state the essential teaching of Torah while standing on one leg, and his reply was – and this is truly the essence of Judaism: Do not do unto others that which is hateful to you.
    Joan Rosenfelt
    New York

    P.S. I love Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann! They don’t seem particularly rude to me – they seem RIGHT – which I appreciate greatly and deeply! – especially Rachel whom I would describe as having very fine manners. Have you actually watched her show? She explains things quite carefully and thoroughly and is unfailingly polite to her guests. I would suggest that you actually watch her show. It’s quite instructive!

  64. George said:

    Dear Joan
    Thank you for the punctuation correction. I didn’t know it was confusing. As for Maddow and the rest, I think they’re uniquely rude and disgraceful, all of them. I found little difference between any of them, save a bit of volume in Maddow’s case, before I shut them all down and moved the whole contraption out of the house last summer. Best thing I did in a long while. Next up: the computer, or whatever it’s called, right? Only problem is I need it for a book I’m writing, so I’m stuck with the dreadful thing for the next few months.

    As you point out, Hillel lives in spirit. Ever come across him on the tube or the Internet? Not really, right? Or if so, in such small measure as to be immaterial.
    Glad you like my blog. You’ll love my book. Thanks again.
    Happy Gardening.

  65. Marilynn Y. James said:

    Thank you for saying so graciously what so needs to be said. I just fear the folk who need to read it, won’t. You are left preaching to the choir. I try to speak to my children, and grand children, and great grand children, and they look at me and wonder. My children, all but 2 are still remembering how they were trained, but the media is so powerful and rapid and bold now, that many of the words and actions that were unheard of, or at least not used in polite society, are in daily use by even small children. surely that is NOT what we meant when we recommended freedom of speech!! I do so enjoy hearing about your nursery, and have 4 of your So descriptive catalogs. Marilynn Y. James

  66. George said:

    Dear Marilynn – Thanks. Honestly it’s just like smoking. Cigarettes are stimulants and so is a ½ hour of TV. Turn it off; turn the radio off and cancel most magazine subscriptions. You’ll have a headache for a couple of weeks, and then it’s over. No kidding. I’m so happy you enjoy our new Heronswood catalogues. Thanks again.

  67. Ginger said:

    Well Said!

  68. George said:

    Many thanks!

  69. Janice White said:

    I am going to make several copies of your beautifully written letter and post them at work (mine and my husband’s), home and send them to my grown children.
    Thank you for expressing so well what I feel nearly every day.

    Sincerely,
    Janice White

  70. George said:

    Thank you very much, Janice. I’m sorry you lost the P.I. Maybe the internet-only version will improve with age, like we all do. It’s going to be tough for them. The monthly AP fees for the news feeds are steep. Therefore, the future will depend on their “localism”. I still say they should focus a lot more on Asia. Good luck to them. The editorial staff was a great bunch of people—the only ones I got to know. Thanks again.

  71. Jean Sullivan said:

    Thanks, George, for your wonderful blogs and this one in particular. I only recently started reading them and have been forwarding them to my husband and some of my friends. This one I’ll forward to all of my friends, including those who love the ‘whingers.’

    A few thoughts:

    TC – I love wildflowers and have a hard time seeing them as impolite. Rather, they represent the possibilities of that world in which we can all get along, the true melting pot.

    All – having just suffered the loss of the best of our local newspapers, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, I mourn the loss of a sometimes voice of reason in local politics. I have been following the re-incarnation of the paper into the SeattlePI.com and have been dismayed at the inarticulate RESPONES I see there. Point well taken, George.

    All – I’m not a gardener, though a great lover of all outdoors and the Pacific Northwest in particular, but feel a kinship with you all. Thanks for participating in this mannered forum.

  72. Lee said:

    Your blogs are a joy to read, the only ones I do read. As for tv, I have 450 useless stations, except for the classical music station – but that I can get 24/7 on the radio. Viewing nature is so much better than viewing TV. Thank you, keep writing.

  73. George said:

    Thanks, Lee. Radio is OK some of the time. Philly has too many sports and “all talk” stations. Only one part-time classical. Great gospel, though. Thanks again.

  74. bruce strong said:

    You state:
    “The Roman spectators, I imagine, felt ghastly–as if part of themselves had been consumed by the lion, or conversely, they themselves had engaged in cannibalism. I imagine that they were enveloped in a dank cloud of shame and self-recrimination–the climate that holds when our lowest natures have been evoked.”

    While it is nice that you imagine so, the facts
    seem to indicate otherwise The “events” in the
    coliseum were, if we are to believe what we are
    told by the experts, were repeated over and over
    again. Not something one would expect if the
    populace were, as you imagine, not receptive to
    these events.

    You thoughts are nice, especially in today’s
    divided climate, however, I think your imaginations
    are just that.

  75. George said:

    Dear Bruce
    Thanks for your post. I was being literary. I “imagined” as I said,and as you pointed out. Indeed. Yet I cling, bitterly in fact, to my fantasy of these urban dwellers secretly feeling bad. That there was “schadenfreude” doesn’t surprise me. Just makes my point, doesn’t it perhaps? Am I the only one sickened?

    Thanks again for your thoughtful post.

  76. Marti Smith said:

    How refreshing to receive this!

    I’ve often wondered if I was the only person in the world who felt like this. As bad as our economic crisis is, from an intellectual perspective, isn’t the dumbing down of America an equally serious crisis?

    I am only one person. I cannot change the world….except maybe one tiny wee little bit at a time.

    Peace and joy to all!

    Marti : )

  77. George said:

    Dear Marti – I think it was Paul Fussell who was the bell-ringer of our current era. He wrote a book about how stupid we were becoming back in the early 90s. I forgot the title. (Duh.) Peace and joy to you, too, and thanks.

  78. Elaine said:

    I am a member of the HGTV gardening forum and we all have written to the station lamenting the lack of gardening shows to no avail. We all have gotten the same form letters. From time to time, a newbie comes aboard and starts a campaign to try to get the us all to write and let them know we want more gardening shows. We need someone with some clout. Looks like you are elected!

  79. George said:

    I haven’t clout with HGTV because I spend no money with them. When I used to watch TV, I didn’t care for all the real estate and fix-it stuff, but that’s what sells. Remember that QVC is the most popular channel and watching it just might kill a person. Thanks for the recommendation. I shall think more about it.

  80. REA said:

    And thus the reason why I’d so much rather spend my spare time in the garden than in front of the TV, listening to all the “talking heads” and their pointless comments. “Words like nature, half reveal and half conceal the soul within.”
    Alfred Lord Tennyson

  81. George said:

    Bravo! More poetry!

  82. srburbank said:

    What a beautifully written piece (peace!). Thanks.

  83. George said:

    Thanks, SR, and please post again.

  84. John Friel said:

    George,
    a fine rumination. I could not agree more strongly with your point that our media seem bent on pandering to the lowest possible common denominator. Noise and news seem indistinguishable to too many.
    I’m afraid I must also agree with TC: Civilization is but a thin veneer laid quite recently over eons of savagery. One needn’t scratch very deeply to engage the underlying beast.
    Ergo, I disagree with your conclusion that the audience left those Roman spectacles feeling “ghastly,” or ashamed. The Coliseum (NOT the Forum, which was a religious/political center, not a stadium) held 50,000 people. Shame doesn’t fill that many seats week after week. They loved it.
    Do Americans leave (or turn off) an NFL game feeling ashamed because some brave, talented young men were carried out on stretchers, perhaps never to walk again? Nah. We’ll be back.

  85. George said:

    Wow, John, thanks. First, I was wrong about the location indeed. But here’s my point—it’s not a veneer, it’s the upper and front parts of the brain, and they run the “reflections” which may sink in as they sit in their tavernas. Of course, I agree, they went again and again, because the lower brain is so much “fun”. However, all they got was a few spectacles—our society watches this junk every day for hours. My concern is the next high point in civilization might not be so high. Where’s our next Shakespeare? Dante? Thanks again.

  86. Suzanne said:

    I don’t really come to you (and by subscribing to this blog I do choose to read you) for your take on the political situation. I well know that these are unusual times in that regard, but I’m not very happy with the increasingly political slant you have taken with these blogs. Unless I begin to get some more applicable gardening advice or whatever it is I hoped to get from you by subscribing, I will be forced to unsubscribe. I’m really not interested in your views on US politics, nor am I interested in the remaining embers of the feelings engendered by the demise of the former Heronswood incarnation.

    I do expect you to be a voice of authority about the unique plants that you provide, and would truly appreciate more information than you are currently providing about those plants and how best to use and cultivate them. I strongly believe you are deeply knowledgeable about gardening, and would really appreciate a sharing of that depth with your readers.

  87. George said:

    Dear Suzanne
    Thanks for your post. Please help me a bit. What sorts of advice would you like? I find giving out generic information to have been adequate. If I knew where you were, what light levels, your likes, etc. I could make more intelligent suggestions. However, you will be happy to read many upcoming posts that will cover spring gardens 2009 at both the Doylestown and Kingston sites. Our eight 2009 Opens don’t interest you? Five in PA and three in WA? Thanks again.

  88. PHIL BINACO said:

    i loved it! brilliant and sensitive

  89. George said:

    Thank you, Phil. Come back soon.

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