In Gardens of Epicurus, London, 1687, Sir William Temple praises Chinese gardens for their intricate irregularity and coined the term 'Sharawaggi' for areas where "the beauty shall be great, but without any order that shall be easily observed". This was the beginning of the eighteenth century English School of landscape wherein, as Geoffrey and Susan Jellicoe write in The Landscape of Man, Viking, New York, 1975, "Nature was no longer subservient to man, but a friendly and equal partner....irregularity was proclaimed as the objective in landscape design".

Change is afoot in the west meadow. When we purchased the property, a little more than four years ago, the area was a rough meadow having been used historically for grazing (Palimpsest) and more recently cleared by Trexon (the developers, Jim Exon and David Trudeau) in order to establish potential house sites. Drifts of woody detritus remained from their rough grubbing where the cut brush was pushed to the margins. The first owner of this new subdivision had maintained the west meadow with the intention of grazing horses. We had no immediate use for it (although we briefly considered growing grapes and then pomegranates) and it became grist for my campaign to turn back the landscape clock to sometime before 1769.

In practice, that meant leaving it to revert to sage brush, which is a stable plant community closer to the coast but here is essentially a chaparral precursor. This sage brush transformation is now well and truly in place, although an area that had lain beneath two hundred tons of rocks excavated from the building site to the east (the rocks were finally moved off-site a couple of years ago) was further disturbed recently when we conducted a percolation test (Pitch Perfect). There is some mathematical formula whereby the arrival of a back hoe on one's property translates into an area of destruction several times larger than the boundaries of its intended work. Thus two test trenches left a broad swath of desolation.

The English estate gardens of the 18th. century developed in part because their owners had sources of income apart from their land holdings. Mercantile trade flourished in this age of the burgeoning British empire. Country estates could be given over to the pursuit of pleasure rather than profit. This was a sea-change in which the encroachment of nature-in-the-raw, formerly resisted in the interest of growing crops or grazing animals was now welcomed as an idealized landscape.

It took a little editing of course, the beauty of wild nature was often manicured to create flowing spaces where groupings of trees unknown in the natural world were used to sculptural effect, but William Kent's (or was it Alexander Pope's?) dictum, that 'all nature is a garden' fundamentally changed the way nature and gardens were understood. The surrounding wilderness was co-opted as an extension of these park like estates - an illusion fostered by the use of a sunken ditch or ha-ha as a boundary marker rather than a wall or hedge.

Having had an open space forced upon us through circumstance, we are now embracing the idea of editing the west meadow. A little before Christmas we hired Alex, a student from Thomas Aquinas College (Woman of the Apocalypse) to help in this endeavor, and other trail making, weeding and clearing tasks. His eight hours of work a week have transformed our ability to make the disturbed areas of the site, those acres either formerly grazed or ravaged by earth moving equipment, into chaparral parkland, where the sage scrub is opened up to incipient meadow and views revealed to the flanking hills of ancient, sclerophytic chaparral. Chamise, ceonothus and mountain mahogany that crowd the oaks alongside the old meadow are being cleared to allow access to their canopy underworld and laurel sumac smothering the native black walnuts is being cut-back to reveal these beautiful, wayward trees.

This is our response to Humphry Repton's admonishment that farmland become parkland. He and Capability Brown carried forward the revolution in landscape aesthetics in the second half of the 18th. century begun by Kent in the first. We have linked oaks to form groves by the simple expedient of linking the clearings beneath them and liberated the humble elderberry to become a tree unfettered by swarming bio-mass. We hope, this spring, to clear a trail to Bear Creek and there create a riparian idyll.

These are not the kind of heroic gestures made by the masters of the English School who thought nothing of moving rivers, creating lakes and if necessary raising water mechanically to make rills and waterfalls - all masquerading as manifestations of wild nature. We are working with a limited palette of 'what's there' - we edit but do not add. We develop meaning out of the apparent chaos generated by the base botanical impulses to infiltrate, populate and strangle the opposition!

Even now, at the very beginnings of this process there are rewards. A wolf oak that overlooks the west meadow's putative house site has been revealed after its protective pallisade of ceonothus was removed and its canopy now provides that wonderful experience of walking into an oaken micro-climate. The leaves at its drip line descend almost to the ground (made soft by years of accumulated litter) and in a breeze make a kind of silken rustle.Yesterday, walking beneath the canopy of another oak a little higher up the hill, and with the kind of breeze blowing that topples empty garbage cans, the experience was less like being protected within an arboreal crinoline and more like being swept up in a frenetic ballroom where pulsating sunlight, sound and wind surround the senses.

We use nature as a foil to our emotions and as a salve to our existential angst. The wild, imaginative, but ultimately humanist landscape we observe in the chaos of nature quiets the soul, and gives meaning to our existence. Perhaps none of this would have been possible without the linkage forged in England in 18th. century between the garden and the wild: these are the big thoughts we sometimes carry with us as we battle the chaparral to better accommodate it.

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