As Aristotle Said, ‘One Flower Does Not a Garden Make’

ALL THESE ROSES grew outside our house this spring and early summer. The yellow blossoms and bud are from an heirloom rosebush called ‘Dolly Parton.’

By RAHN ADAMS

The flowers at our house have been beautiful since March, but the blossoms are slowing down as we trudge deeper, ever deeper into the dog days of summer.

I’ve always liked flowers. The daisy-like gaillardia or blanket flower is my favorite, thus the name of our website. On the North Carolina coast where we used to live, gaillardia is as common as the dandelion is in the Piedmont and mountains. So now, whenever I spot a bunch of the humble red-and-yellow blossoms at the Lowe’s Garden Center or Biltmore Gardens, I think of our adopted home in Brunswick County. For some reason, we can’t get gaillardia to grow at our houses.

Living with two gardeners — Mom for 21 years, then Timberley for 38 — has helped me appreciate not just the wildflowers and weeds that Nature brings us, but also the flowers, trees and shrubs we’ve planted ourselves: the camellia, Lenten rose, breath of spring, crocus, daffodil, sweet bubby, azalea, thrift, candytuft, yellowbell, dogwood, iris, snowball bush, sweet William, clematis, rhododendron, hibiscus, violet, moonflower, tea olive, peony, gardenia, echinacea, coreopsis, foxglove, dahlia, gladiolus, daisy, black-eyed Susan, nasturtium, hosta, butterfly bush, crepe myrtle, sunflower, marigold, phlox, rose of Sharon, and several varieties of lilies and roses, just to name some of the blossoms I’ve seen at our houses this growing season.

But this column isn’t just about beautiful flowers. It’s also about how we look at objects of allure — flowers, friends, lovers, heroes, villains — and what we see in them and in ourselves.

THESE LILIES GREW outside our house this spring and early summer. The most delicate one (bottom, middle) is what Timberley calls a ‘mystery lily.’

I’ll keep this simple.

This season I’ve made a concerted effort to take and post photographs on social media of our flowers as they’ve bloomed in our yards and flower beds — one and the same, really — since late February. Timberley did that more extensively about 20 years ago, even creating a digital, clickable garden of photos on our website of every flower, plant and shrubbery outside our house.

What I noticed back then was that our focus on the perfect picture of each beautiful blossom and leaf, and our collection of them in one virtual space gave the wrong impression of the real space outside our house, though that was not our intent.

After visiting Timberley’s impressive virtual garden at gaillardiapress.com, a co-worker whom we didn’t know all that well commented that she wanted to come over to our house and walk through our yard to see our beautiful flowers in person. She had the misconception that all the flowers on our website were in full bloom all the time, as they appeared to be in cyberspace. She didn’t visit, though, after I told her the truth, that nothing much was in bloom right then and that some of the photos had been taken at least a year earlier.

That same misconception is apparent now as I post flower pictures on Facebook and Instagram. I’ve had many comments indicating that social media friends and followers assume that our yards are jam-packed with bountiful rose bushes of all colors, burgeoning buds and exploding blossoms of the perfectly-formed flowers I photograph up close and then post. I think most folks would be disappointed if they judged our yards on their street appeal. I’ll spare you looks at those “big pictures” since I haven’t mowed the grass or trimmed the weeds yet this week.

But that’s the point. When I post a flower picture on social media, I don’t really want you to see the whole yard, just one tiny part of it. And the same is true of all media. If we aren’t careful about how we look at something and what conclusion we make about it, then we might not see the big picture and, therefore, we might not truly understand what we’ve seen.

Instead, we often come away from our electronic screens and loudspeakers with at least somewhat distorted views of those people, events and issues that fascinate us at any given time. Of course, the source of the images and sounds that we consume is all-important, especially now that so many interests can vie so easily for our attention and do so for any number of reasons, both good and bad.

Perhaps a good measure of a source’s reliability is how “fair and balanced” it actually is — how well it gives us not only closeup looks at a subject, but also the big picture, which shows the rosebush’s thorns and tangled stems along with its exquisite buds and blossoms.

In plain words, be careful what you accept as “news” on TV and, especially, on the Internet. Be wary of so-called news broadcasts and websites that titillate but don’t necessarily inform. Listen to radio newscasts at the top of any hour you wish to be informed (or to that hour’s podcast, whenever you wish). Also, read newspapers, especially local ones that give complete, unbiased coverage of issues, at least away from their sometimes unbalanced editorial (opinion) pages.

We all should turn off, tune out, and drop out of the 24/7 news cycle before it fries our brains and before we have another bad trip like the ones we’ve been having since cable news and smartphones became ubiquitous. We should stay informed, yes, but we should keep in mind that our horizons are limited — or expanded — by the lens and filter through which we view them. The pictures we see can be clear, or they can be obscured.

It’s our choice, one that we should freely make with deliberation, not through ignorance or indifference. And it’s a choice that says more about us as a society than about what we collectively see.

As Aristotle, a really smart guy, once stated in a cute meme I saw the other day on Facebook, cute despite the fact that there was no kitten in the picture: “One flower does not a garden make.” But to be honest, I don’t think ol’ Aristotle said that. I looked it up.

The Greek philosopher did, however, say, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” I wasn’t there or even watching on TV when he said that, but it sounds like something an intelligent person would say.

At least I think so. But maybe not. You be the judge.