This photo shows a walled garden*:

It is the Portland Japanese Garden, a city landmark that should be on any visitor’s shortlist. It’s beautiful, peaceful, clean, and well visited. Some consider it the most authentic Japanese garden worldwide (outside of Japan).

The garden is also walled off. Literally. It is run by a private, nonprofit organization, and it’s funded solely by admission earnings and donations. Adults pay $9.50 to get in. Once you’re in, you can’t smoke, you can’t use a cell phone, you can’t have a snack - you can’t even buy a snack on premises. No pets, no professional photography, no weddings.

This is because the garden is meant to create and foster a certain tranquil mindset, a contemplative mood of oneness with Nature. You may find this corny or old-fashioned; if so, you’re better off seeing other city sights. If you buy into the garden’s premise, however, it’s a rewarding and unique experience.

A software store is not an actual garden, not literally. But enough people have used this metaphor that it’s worth thinking for a second about what it’s actually supposed to mean.

I’m assuming we’re supposed to compare this approach to the freer alternatives such as community gardens and city parks. Ignoring for a moment the fact that these gardens are also regulated by serious restrictions on what one can and can’t do, it still puzzles me that the “walled garden” is presented as an obviously undesirable structure.

Aren’t the benefits of a closed, carefully managed garden clearly visible? The experience is controlled, so it tells a story - one which may not emerge from a democratic, anything-goes process (or do you think this sort of slow and deliberate story would emerge in a busy American city in the year 2010?) Charging for admission means that the place can be maintained, improved, and marketed. There are downsides to this, of course — maybe the management makes boneheaded decisions now and then. Maybe you think that vine maple would look better a little to the left — maybe you’re even right.

But you see why they run things they way they do. And no one is forced to live in the Japanese Garden, just as no one is forced to commit fully to the App Store and refrain from exploring the rest of the world. Sure, this is Portland’s nicest garden - maybe they have a sort of monopoly on gardens. Maybe it’s because people like it, because it is so walled off.

I’m not saying the App Store is a beautiful garden. That is not a very good metaphor at all — but insofar as it applies, it doesn’t strengthen any App Store detractor’s case… unless they’d also argue that the Portland Japanese Garden should open its doors, run on monopoly money, and turn from a meditative oasis into a busy bazaar.

* Photo by Flickr user backseatpilot.