Sunday Forum: Welcome to the Garden Party

America's first apolitical party believes that, once a country loses its connection to the land, it loses its mind, says party founder GEORGE BALL

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This land is your land, this land is my land, and more crucially, this land is land.

As we celebrate Independence Day, let's consider a new political party based, not on stimulants such as tea and coffee, but on flowers and vegetables. Hold your rallies in your yard. Everyone is welcome: north, south, left or right.

Welcome to the Garden Party, the new grass-roots movement founded with the express purpose of inspiring Americans and their leaders to think and act like gardeners.

The Garden Party is inspired by the example of our forefathers. Thomas Jefferson considered himself first of all a man of the land; George Washington viewed his primary role as farmer. Both men were leaders and pioneers in agriculture, as well as statesmen. They both practiced crop rotation and careful stewardship of the soil.

Both men were eager innovators in introducing new crops. Jefferson wrote, "The greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture. ... One such service of this kind rendered to a nation is worth more to them than all the victories of the most splendid pages of their history, and becomes a source of exalted pleasure to those who have been instrumental in it."

The Garden Party believes that a country, once it loses its connection to the land, loses its mind as well. Our goal is to restore both.

To create and maintain a flourishing and productive garden calls for planning, vigilance, patience, imagination, love, discipline, resilience, timing, pragmatism, prudence and durable gloves -- precisely the qualities our leaders now need most.

Our party's garden-centered stimulus plan calls for reconnecting American culture with agriculture and horticulture, and bringing the country back to the country. It's time for Americans, adrift in the gleaming void of cyberspace and the nebulae of the service economy, to come back to earth, and harvest the wisdom that grows in the garden.

Most Americans are separated by just a few generations from life on the farm. Our lives are no longer joined to the rhythm of the rising and setting sun, the seasons, plantings and harvests that defined our ancestors' days, months and years. We have replaced nature's cadences with synthetic man-made ones, and warm sunlight with chilly backlit computer screens. In severing our connection to nature, we have also lost touch with our shared nature as a people.

The 10,000 years of agricultural development could be viewed as the prelude to the information age. Seeds were the microchips of their day; agricultural knowledge was the software. The earliest gardens anchored early settlements of locavores, giving rise to closer communities, tidier social arrangements and an ever-accelerating culture. Seeds, plants and gardening know-how went viral -- migrating from person to person, farm to farm, continent to continent. Those who heeded the wisdom of the gardener flourished; those who did not perished.

Yet, agriculture lives on in our national imagination and memory. Through the clutter of mass media, we can still remember the seeds sown by Native Americans, the Pilgrims' first harvest, the beauty and bounty of Depression-era and World War II victory gardens, and our own family beds, borders and plots. The garden remains our terra firma: a vulgarity-free zone, a serene and verdant refuge from the mass media carnival.

You wouldn't know it from reading the news, but the United States remains the "breadbasket of the world." Our country is unrivaled for both the stunning variety and abundance of the crops we grow.

The early European settlers were rightly dazzled by the extraordinary richness of the American soil. The country's range of terrain and climate makes agriculture perhaps the most exceptional aspect of American exceptionalism.

The Garden Party does not propose that Americans stop everything, start a garden or reinvent themselves as 21st-century farmers. Our goal is simpler and more dramatic. We want Americans not necessarily to assume the life of gardeners (though that would be nice) but to adopt the wisdom of gardeners.

Like the American people, the garden abounds in diversity -- different plants coexisting in dynamic equipoise -- a good model for our increasingly unbalanced political discourse. We need to develop a politics of nurture on a scale with our immense natural and human resources. As a society we seem increasingly fractured and fractionalized and have lost our sense of the wholeness, richness and beauty of the American narrative.

The nation's first "apolitical party," the Garden Party can serve us as a living central metaphor, the axis where the American people and the American land come together, connecting our past, present and future. The wellspring of creativity and innovation, the Garden Party is a garden of ideas. Join us.

George Ball is chairman of W. Atlee Burpee & Co. and past president of the American Horticultural Society.


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