May 26, 2009

Idealism Kills

Or: The Voluntary Re-GDR-fication

I am currently tackling the problem of our garden, a bigg-ish affair. While the entire property covers 1,500 m², the lawn covers "only" 1,000 m² because there is the house, a garden shed, several big trees, various flower beds and vegetable patches. We have decided to do most of the gardening ourselves (or rather: I will do it myself) instead of paying somebody to do it, and I had no idea how much there is to learn about lawn mowers and how expensive the high-performance ones are. I had no idea either how quickly a garden turns into a weedy mess without care.

The garden, although it used to be well tended until we took over and, strictly speaking, not ugly, is uninspired. It's the garden of somebody who had little money to spend, didn't care and had no sense for beauty (but for order) and plenty of use for some additional self-grown grub. (It just occurs to me that this is a fair description for the former GDR.)

Yes, I am slowly coming to the point now: I haven't the faintest about and I am not keen on gardening so I did an Internet search (in German), first for plants that are pretty to look at, uncomplicated to grow and in need of little care, and second how to turn a vegetable patch into a flower- (or other ornamental) bed. The result let me immediately rummage for my beta-blockers: While there are countless hits on how to turn a flower- (or other ornamental) bed into a vegetable patch, the reverse is almost non-existent. Why? I soon found out why. At the website of one of the public radio stations, under the header "Tips for Hobby Gardeners" we are informed that:
Michelle Obama, the wife of the American president, shows us how to do it: Instead of growing flowers she turns the flower beds around the White House into vegetable patches. Thus, the ornamental beds are put to their best use and the vitamin-supply is ensured.
This let me not just rummage for my beta-blockers but curse the fact that I had no emetic available or at least a stiff drink.

Frankly, that couple in the White House disgusts me so much that I always try to skip the ubiquitous information about them, so I had no idea whether that is true. Another Internet search later, I know it is only partly true. Not THE flower beds around the White House are turned into vegetable patches, but a sizeable bit of the South Lawn. (Which proves once again that if anything ought to convince even the last American that his current president is deeply anti-American, it ought to be this extracerebral, bowel-located adulation by the German masses.)

But let's forget blissfully about the charade in the White House and focus on all those many little Germans who do not grow, lile Michelle O., vegetables in their garden as an opportunist PR-gag, but as a lifestyle choice. Why would people want to turn a perfectly nice patch of grass or flowers into an ugly pile of dirt and manure to harvest some deformed, bug-infested lumps of vegetable DNS? This is, mind you, one of the most densely populated countries in the world and gardening has not, like in England, any "snob value". I am not talking either about people with REALLY big gardens, time and knowledge how to grow useful plants effectively. Also, this is a country, where staple foods, fruit and vegetables in season are cheap. So again: Why?

Although hardly anybody of those wannabe self-sufficients is a militant "Green" with a capital "G". They are following an ideology, just as the housewife, who stridently demands that her breadwinning husband has to take down the dustbin after a long day at the office does not see herself as a feminist. Still, behind their activities are the claims of a political movement that rejects modernity. The list of statement-making labels that are furthering a set of relative moral values behind different sorts of food is ever-growing. Fair Trade, "Bio", organic, non-gm are only some of them and what they all share is the rejection and vilification of modern farming practices, farming practices without which millions in the third world would starve to death. Idealism kills people.

An old joke exemplifies quite well the "green" image of men:
Meet two planets:
"You are not looking well. Are you ill?"
"Yes, I've caught Homo Sapiens."
"Don't worry, that's just a nuisance and will pass."

Men as bugs.

In the Sixties, people here in Germany started to turn their vegetable patches into gardens because they could now afford beauty and enjoyed it together with their freedom. That was when the old-fashioned farmers' cooperation trading posts, soon to be turned into "garden centers", ceased to sell horse- and cattle feed to sell bulbs, lawn seed and outdoor furniture instead. Now we are going the opposite way. People are prepared to victimize pleasure and beauty for a totalitarian world view and really believe against all reason that the ugly, bug-eaten lumps they are harvesting from their towel-sized patches are truly "healthy". In the former GDR people did it to improve their uninspiring staple diet, now they do it voluntarily and that gives them a warm and fuzzy feeling of a vague "goodness" and moral superiority. Idealism kills pleasure too.

Cross-posted with pictures at The Evil Style Queen.


G. M. Palmer said...

With updated and sensible gardening techniques, one can grow far more food that one possibly can use. We've only got a tiny garden -- maybe 20 feet x 30 feet -- and we grow far more veggies than we can use.

There is a gardener who uses the same methods as we do on a 60x100 plot of land who grows about 7000 pounds of food annually.

So sensible gardening can be done. And homegrown veggies taste far better than anything from a store -- at least in the US.

Anonymous said...

Actually, growing one's own is a major hobby in the UK. You must have missed all the "allotments" when you were here. And British commercial vegetables - especially fruit, which it is kind to describe as painted wood - are so bloody bad, that growing your own is simply the beginning of decent eating. Likewise baking your own bread, which I often do.

The_Editrix said...

Actually, I missed most of the UK, although I used to be something like a habituée there. But I was always with the horsey set in the deepest rural backwaters. It took me many years before I made it to London. (I worked there in the summer of 1998, but couldn't make ends meet. I doubt I would have liked it much anyway.)

My horsey friends either had beautifully kept gardens or something that might have been a garden once but was now a habitat for weeds. I don't think I ever met somebody who grew his own vegetables. Frightfully onesided experience, but there you are...