Life, Liberty and Pursuit of a Beautiful Garden

More inspiration:  Right after starting this blog, I got an email from Burpee.  Yes, that Burpee – the specialists in seeds and plants.  It seems they are having their Fordhook Farm Open Days and will be “celebrating happiness and all that flowers, shrubs and ornamental trees do to bring it into being.”  They sent out an email on happiness and how it relates to all the wonderful things we grow in the garden.  This is the part that got me:

Yet, when you think about it, you detect patterns. [Thomas] Jefferson wasn’t referring to feelings. I lug down my Johnson’s Dictionary. There is another clue. A “happy” person is “ready”, as Johnson puts it in definition #3. As in “fit”, this definition fits the concept of happiness very well. “Life, liberty and the pursuit of whatever fits me—I’ll be ready for it.”

The Declaration of Independence becomes even more interesting when you consider, “pursuit”, my favorite word in Jefferson’s phrase. I like to think that he was most proud of “pursuit”. It means “occupation” in its secondary definition. Certainly, one wishes to pursue something that fits or is fitting one’s goal or purpose. As Homer suggested, “The journey is greater than the destination.” And one always has to earn—or win—one’s occupation, by either luck or pluck.

My horticulture mentor, Claude Hope, used the word “happy” to describe plants that were thriving in their position or site in a garden. “It’s very happy there”, he’d say about a begonia. “They love it, they’re happy,” referring to a bed of orange hybrid impatiens in an English park. A very fit man, Claude Hope was descended from a long line of Scotch Irish dairy farmers and, earlier, peasants. Like my grandfather’s grandfathers. Peasants of peasants. “Land races”, to use a horticultural term. No drawing rooms, pubs or long dinners of, well, happy conversation for them, as for Messrs. Johnson and Boswell.

Claude’s and my forebears were not especially happy, in all likelihood, except in the definition of “lucky”. Indeed, they were “yearning to breathe free”, in the words of the poet Emma Lazarus, carved into the base of the Statue of Liberty. So, one way or another, they pursued happiness.

Like a composite flower, the word “happiness” collects all of these old and new forms and presents them to us. Contentment, well-being and a sense of euphoria are derived from the good luck of having ancestors who were fit to make it across the Atlantic, the Pacific or overland to a place where fortune smiles and a person’s destiny or fate can be discovered.

A happy word, then, is “happiness”.

These are some of the very things I am working on – being ready for whatever fits me, enjoying the journey of discovery and thriving in a place that fits me.  It makes me laugh that a newsletter from a gardening company could hit so close to home and so beautifully encapsulate the very thing I am trying to pin down.  Well done, Burpee, well done.


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