“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” —Albert Camus
Yesterday was a golden autumn day, with the maples, oaks, elms, and pignut hickories (best tree name ever) illuminating the world. I spent the day exploring the New York Botanical Garden, and even got to paddle around on the Bronx River.
I was also on a mission to check out my dad’s roses—he’s a hybridizer and about 20 of his varieties are inside the botanical garden. But as I approached the rose collection…I discovered that it was locked!
First, some background. My dad is a Crazy Devoted Rose Geek (caps required). Everywhere he goes, he manages to find roses. Every city we visited on family trips meant tracking down that city’s rose garden. Over the years, we visited dozens of gardens together, and he has visited even more on his own.
Yesterday’s locked garden gate at the NYBG marked the second time a Lim family member has been barred entry from a rose garden. The other time was in Rome this past July. My dad was there. He peered between the gate bars as if it were he being imprisoned from the roses. He took the photos he could, and sighed.
But when he had decided we might as well leave, he remarked that the city’s decision to close the garden for the remainder of the year could be seen as a great compliment and honor to the rose. He said that by shutting the garden gates when the roses were not in full splendor, the city made sure there could only be one possible memory of experiencing the garden—a perfectly beautiful one.
Yesterday, I thought about this again in the New York Botanical Garden. Somehow, it was fully acceptable to have everyone walk through the forest full of decaying leaves, dried twigs, and snags (there was even an educational sign explaining their importance). But it wasn’t ok to have people walk through a garden of fading rose blooms.
If Camus’ argument is that a forest with autumn foliage is like a rose garden in bloom, then why is the forest open year round and the rose garden not? What is the difference between our ability to see meaning and beauty in a pignut hickory leaf and in a wilting flower? Who has determined that there is “nothing to see here” when the gates to the rose garden are shut? What about the rest of the rose plant—the vibrant rose hips, the dizzying diversity of rose leaves?
These questions touch on larger questions about the creative process. In Show Your Work!, Austin Kleon suggests that we publicly show our work even as we are creating it. The process itself becomes an art, and a way to communicate the story of what is made.
How is that different from the natural process of how a rose blossoms?
Ultimately, I believe, the difference is with the viewer. If one truly loves a plant—just as if one truly loves typefaces or mosaics or poems—all stages of their development are fascinating and beautiful.
Like unconditional support or unconditional love. (Same thing.)
Beauty, then, is in the heart of the beholder.