Some of the jargon in the garden world is like nails on a chalkboard to me. “Plant-material” comes to mind. Come on. They are plants. Just plants. Why add the hyphen? Why denigrate living, marvelous, moving beings to construction and commodity terms?
But I love learning old terms, elegant, flowing words that perfectly express a skill or a need or tie gardening to other arts.
I’m renovating a garden of a renowned landscape architect, George Betzell. He was based in Long Island, worked lots at The Cloisters in Georgia and around the country. But he’s a South Carolinian. You won’t find him on the web; he was pre-web. I interviewed George last summer in his retirement home near Columbia. In the community cafeteria, he ordered lunch for us both; steak, potato, iceberg salad, then told the waiter not to interrupt our meeting. In his mid 80’s; he didn’t have much time as he was leaving to tweak a design at Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby.
I’d requested a brief interview both to get to know him and to ask a few questions about my current garden project. At one point, I told him that I loved the shape of the lawn with the swoopy corners (pictured above.) “You mean the astragal corners?” I didn’t know the word. So I looked it up later. Astragal comes from picture molding, “a small convex molding.” But when we were planting the next day, I felt silly using it. So I said, “Hey Knox, would you plant the Phlox pilosa at the swoopy corners?” The garden owner heard me, she said, “George called those astragal corners. I love that word.” Me too. I’ll probably never use it again, but every time I see the shape, I’ll think of George and his gentle teaching.