Growing Home

What’s the difference between a house and a home? We all know the answer instinctively: articulating it is trickier. The architect Le Corbusier famously—and chillingly—described the house as “a machine for living in.” But “home,” surely, is not about mechanics. But when we are at home, where are we?

First the house. Built to shelter a family or individuals from the elements, a habitation where we eat, rest, educate and amuse ourselves, the house includes appurtenances for preparing food, sleeping, reposing, keeping warm and bathing. Here you have the requisite machine for living in, but not, alas, a home.

The anthropologist Mircea Eliade found that, in traditional societies, the home is regarded as the center of the world. The home represents “the heart of the real,” the vantage point that allows people to make sense of their world. The home is a refuge from the “unreal”—the ever-present threats posed by the unknown and unforeseen.

For our hunter-gatherer cousins, the home is situated at the junction of two intersecting lines. The vertical line locates the home between heaven and the underworld. The horizontal line places the home, as the art critic John Berger writes, as the “starting point and, hopefully, the returning point of all terrestrial journeys.” When we say we’re going home, we are referring to just one place: our place.

Beginning in the 1980s, the American home came under a self-inflicted siege. No money down, low interest loans and a steady climb in house values gave rise to McMansions, supersized houses measuring 7500 square feet or more, which planted their big “footprints” in U.S. suburbs.

These dream houses, while very much in the spirit of high-flying 80s and 90s, were incommensurate with the shrinking American family. Since 1950, the average American home has more than doubled in size, while the average household is 20 percent smaller, reduced from 3.35 people to 2.63 people inclined to living large.

“Starter castles” embody what realtors call “curb appeal”—you certainly can see them from the curb. However, their giant “footprints” leave little room on the lot for play or recreation. Furthermore, many homeowners associations prohibit vegetable gardens—in America, no less, one of the ideal places to grow a summer vegetable garden. One wonders what Washington, Jefferson and the other First Farmers would think.

Today, Americans are looking for smaller houses. The mortgage market is tight, and hefty deposits are mandated. Add to that the uncertain economy, flat lining real estate values, and rising fuel prices and small is beautiful once again.

People now want homes that fit them like gloves. The new American house will soon be a marvel of balance, proportion and craftsmanship. Nevertheless, a house, however fine the exterior, is static and inexpressive. On its own, the structure sits mutely and forlornly on the landscape, the windows blankly staring into the middle distance. The times, I believe, call for a new American garden to serve as an equal partner in the new American home.

Now let me tell you about my table trick, a feat of legerdemain that never fails to dazzle houseguests. At the dinner table I ask my visitors to look away, as I stealthily whisk away the vase of flowers.

Now, I ask my guests to look at the table. Anything different? Yes, they will say, something important is missing, but what? At this point I replace the vase on the table to a collective “Aha!”

The impact of the flowers is a revelation to all. The table becomes alive, the room becomes alive, the flowers’ colorful blooms illuminate the guests, and sparkle in their gazes. Gardens have precisely this effect on a home.

Garland your property with flowers, herbs, fruits and vegetables and you will experience this magic. Flowers, their form, color and fragrance, represent the summit of natural beauty. You cannot find fresher, more flavorful fruits, herbs and vegetables than those you grow at home.

In keeping with Eliade’s vertical axis of home, the garden connects us to the earth and sun. From our media-drenched, high-tech dystopia, the garden provides a sanctuary for the senses: a pageant of color, scent, shape, texture and flavor.

A family that works together in the garden shares in one of mankind’s oldest and most cherished rituals. Begin your garden and you’ll witness an extraordinary transformation, as your house grows into a home.

This entry was posted on Monday, May 21st, 2012 at 12:13 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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11 Responses to “Growing Home”

  1. m. c. woods said:

    Very refreshing to reorient oneself & focus on a reality—believe the garden is the finishing item making a house a home! Thank you for you insight!! MCW

  2. Steve F. said:

    This week, I harvested my first strawberry, grown in a hanging basket. In a few more weeks, I’ll harvest the garlic that I planted last fall in my potager garden and in what I call ‘the inner sanctum,’ one of the backyard gardens. The blueberries in the giant tub on the back deck are only enough to provide us cereal fillers in the morning, when they ripen. While I can not offset a huge amount of my food-debt, I have gardens on all sides of my small 1,000 ft house that are the envy of the neighborhood. A small bit of ‘wild’ for the birds, the toads and an occasional garter snake and life is good.

  3. Patricia W Silva said:

    AMEN

  4. Joe said:

    Do you know Burpee says the exact same thing? I hope they have permission.

  5. Susan McCreight said:

    Beautiful essay that is absolutely in tune with how we need to be thinking. I love the idea of home as refuge from the unreal. The garden is what can make a house a home.

  6. I LOVE this post. It’s funny but when I am going to our family’s farm – on which I no longer live have not in fact lived for over 30 years – I still say, I’m going home. Love the flower trick too. I may copy you. Thanks!

  7. June Paterson said:

    lt is a great sadness…in my mind, a tragedy…when value is placed only on the finished product that is bigger and thus perceived as better. That kind of superficial thinking is the basis of many of the current problems we all face. Fortunately there are still a few people who understand one must first comprehend every aspect of anything in order to determine whether the value is real or merely egotistical.

  8. Ret Sewak said:

    What a beautiful article and oh, so true!

  9. Linda Cook said:

    Loved this blog. My son wanted to start a garden and I have lots of flower beds but gave him a 12X12 right in the middle of the backyard. we fenced it, I bought him books and seeds and set him loose. he made half a bed, hasn’t gotten to the other side, but has become a fanatic about weeds. LOL! Loves all the different bugs and I’ve enjoyed having him outside with me.

    I even enlarged on of my flower beds right up next to his fence and planted watermelons and cantaloupe in it just so we have areas where we work side by side. Gardening is for familes.

  10. Connie said:

    What a lovely description of what makes a home charming and inviting. I was working in my garden early this morning and giving thanks for the beauty around me… what great blessings the trees and flowers bring into my life.

  11. Lindy Coffman said:

    What a wonderful article. I enjoyed in very much and as I read your thoughts on flowers in the home I smiled and nodded in agreement. The most modest room becomes elegant with the addition of flowers, preferably from your garden.
    As a novice gardener who is just learning the craft, the smaller garden of my condominium offers me the right amount of space to not feel intimidated and to learn as my garden grows. Spring is in the air, what a wonderful season to enjoy outside.

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