The Garden of (American) Dreams

Greetings, humans. I’m going to steal another post from English class because it’s just so easy. I will most likely continue to do this. Therefore, expect uncharacteristic, serious topics like this because that’s what we do in English, though I will attempt to make them lighthearted and entertaining because that’s what I do always.

This week’s topic was the American Dream. (We’re reading The Great Gatsby.) Background: The American Dream is the idea that in America is the land of opportunity, that anyone can achieve their dreams no matter where they start if they work hard. However, the American Dream appears to be an ideal that’s not real for many.


Let us imagine a garden. This garden is imaginary because as we established in the last post, I am a terrible gardener and any real garden of mine would surely turn to either a field of gravel or a luscious plastic paradise. This imaginary garden is actually where my last remaining cactus now lives.

So let us imagine this garden together. There’s a fence. In fact, it is a white picket fence. The garden is a predictable and neat rectangle. As this garden is imaginary, there are many different microbiomes and the plants are semi-sentient. Predictably, every fresh-faced, dewy young plant has the exact same dream: to grow in the sun-warmed soil, to spread their leaves, to photosynthesize, to exist, to be. But often to be the greenest, to outgrow and outcompete all the other plants, to spread their roots the widest and spread their seeds the farthest, to be the most beautiful plant, the most useful, to live in luxury, to be glorious, to have more.

In the center of the garden, we have the prime spot. There’s a tree that provides shade for those snobbish plants that need something like three hours of full sun and an hour and thirty-eight minutes of partial shade. The center of the garden has the most fertile soil. It’s a deep chocolate, like crumbled, moist brownies. It’s imported from an earth-like exoplanet that has far superior soil, untouched by human pollution. The center plants require vintage wine and hand-fed grapes every six hours. In addition to exquisite wine, the plants are fed melted ice water only from the purest snow of the Arctic. It’s a lovely place to be, but it’s rather small and exclusive. All the plants there have been there for generations, and when they die and rot in the chocolate soil, their seeds take root and grow where they died. As they will always grow and die in the center patch. Life is good in the center; sure, they have their problems, like everyone else, but it’s hard not to envy the center. The center patch of the garden is what all the other plants want, what we work towards, but the plants in the center just had the luck to grow there, I suppose, just like any other plant had the luck to grow where they grew. And we can’t really blame the center plants for being center plants; they didn’t choose for their seeds to be there, just like the plants in the desert didn’t choose to be there. But that doesn’t stop us from hating them, or at least the idea of them, a little bit. Their vintage wine and Arctic snow-melt and imported dirt…. Jealousy and a sense of entitlement are a bitter mix.
Most of the plants grow in the area encircling the center. Life’s pretty good for us. We don’t have the purest water, but it’s still clean, human-grade drinking water that rains down on us like clockwork from the sprinklers. Sometimes we’re thirsty, but most of the time we’re not. There are no shade plants, and the sun sometimes burns, but most of the time it’s warm. The dirt isn’t great, but it’s good. We don’t have imported soil, but we do get store-bought, eutrophying nitrogen fertilizer occasionally. Life’s pretty amazing actually, and yet we moan and envy the center patch. It’s only natural. After a plant’s grown some, reached its old plant dreams, it isn’t usually satisfied. It makes new dreams. It doesn’t stop growing, it wants more. It’s only plant nature. We can’t really blame ourselves for wanting, but we can’t help but be a little disgusted.

There are also other areas in which plants struggle but where it’s not quite so bad as the desert, such as the bog and the mud pits and the marsh and the patch of eternal darkness in the corner. However, we will only mention them in passing because this is already far too long and there’s still much more gardening to be done.

The desert is the worst of the worst place to be, Supreme Cactus help those who end up there. It only gets water when the fickle clouds feel like it, and even then it falls from the gutter. The only other source of water is when a stray cat bothers to urinate on it. The sun burns, an inescapable oppression; the “soil” is cracked and dry, indistinguishable from the rock of the moon, where no plant dares grow. Contrary to expectations, there are plants in these inhospitable wastelands, where the days are brutal and the nights are brutal and where no plant belongs. There are a few plants, my cactus, for instance, who grew up in the desert and thrived. We point at these exceptions and exclaim, “Look! It is possible to reach the dream, even from the desert with nothing to begin. The other desert plants must not be trying hard enough. They must be irresponsible or unintelligent to not have beaten the impossible odds. In this garden, all you need is hard work to reach the dream, not luck or good soil or anything else. Those other plants must have gotten what they deserve.” The desert is spreading, you know, mingling with the middle patch as we erode our lands with unsustainable agriculture. This terrifies us. It makes our soil all the more precious. Oh, we care. We sympathize. We toss the desert our excess water, some fertilizer, to soothe our consciences. We worry and talk and read and write stupid articles about gardening, but at the same time, we clutch our soil all the tighter because Can you imagine living in the desert? and watch the center patch like hungry cats. We shrug and think, “Well, there isn’t enough space here for everyone. Someone needs to live in the desert.” But most of the time we don’t think about the desert at all. It’s only at the fringes of the garden. We can barely even see it. And the plants in the desert? They can barely see us. The desert is infinite, all-consuming, inescapable. The “dream” belongs in quotation marks for the desert. It is a joke. A whisper of a possibility you’d need a microscope to see. As Langston Hughes, an eloquent shrub, put it, “America never was America to me.” (To make this quote work, we’re going to pretend I named my garden “America,” even though I would never name a garden, let alone such an idyllic name, the pessimist that I am. Note that I don’t like metaphors and that this is absolutely not a metaphor for anything. It is simply an imaginary garden that I have to replace the real garden I failed to sustain.)

We must also mention the weeds: the dandelion seeds that float over the fence, the clover that crops up from nowhere. We see them as ugly. We spray them with weed-killer (poisoning nature). We call them “foreign,” “invaders,” “aliens,” like the little green imposters from Mars who plant themselves among us. We think they’re taking our space, that we somehow deserve the garden more because we were here first, like petulant children claiming toys (The native grasses were here first anyway. Kentucky Bluegrass is actually from Europe). We believe our dreams of glorious plant life are somehow worth more than theirs, even though we all dream the same dreams at night. We will correct this error here: dandelion and clover are beautiful and these “weeds” are flowers, actually.

That is all I have to say. I have no profound conclusion. But I am a mere semi-sentient plant and can therefore barely have thoughts, let alone profound ones. Goodbye, humans. Dream of gardens tonight.

Note: Maybe I won’t kill this garden. Since it’s not real, it shouldn’t die unless I want it too, right?

Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels

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