A frugal and highly-organized manager...

My friend Ron visited Mount Vernon, George Washington's home in northern Virginia, and was impressed by the gardens. In one garden a plaque bore words Washington had written to his farm manager, and Ron liked the sentiment so much that he snapped the picture shown above.

What resonates with Ron and me isn't that we want people to save garden seeds from one year to the next, though sometimes we do exactly that. What's appealing about the quotation is that it encourages two currently-out-of-fashion principles.

First, "frugality" is implied by the saving of seeds; second, "self discipline" is needed to harvest the seed at the right time, store them properly, and sow them in their proper season. In other words, Washington is applying to gardening two basic themes running throughout Nature, and that's something to think about.

For, frugality is the restrained use of resources, and nothing is more frugal than Nature, which recycles everything, but wastes nothing. Similarly, self discipline is voluntary submission to rules understood as good in the long term, and nothing maintains self discipline more rigidly than Nature. For instance, if organisms depart from these principles, as when rabbits overpopulate, Nature quickly self-regulates with disease, famine and/or increased predation. Nowhere in Nature is waste and unrestrained self indulgence tolerated for long.

Thus you have two homey notions that considered by themselves might seem unimaginative and arid, yet they serve as the basis of voluptuously bounteous, polychromatic gardens filled with scintillating fragrances and tastes, and unforeseen textures and forms, all leading to savory, wholesome meals.

In Washington's words, frugality and self-discipline are being evoked in the context of creating a healthy and beautiful garden, just as a lush symphony might be structured around simple but elegant melodies played on violin and cello.