Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The beautiful secret: a garden is never finished.

A blog post told in two parts:
1. a personal story;
2. A book review.

First, the story… 

I’ve been doing the math lately.
  • How long have we lived here? 
  • How old is the garden? 
  • How long have we known each other? 
The older I get, the faster the numbers jumble together. I remember reading things like this when I was younger and thinking “old people ramblings.”

 We began building this garden 14 years ago, 12 years in earnest. About 4 years into it, AdRi asked “Are we done with the garden yet?” And she was being completely honest with it. Were we done? Had we achieved our goal and could check it off? Was it completed and now would perform flawlessly year after year? My brain went two directions with a response to this question. One was aghast with how different our thoughts were about this garden. I live in the process, the ongoing gifts of the garden, the never ending adventure, the therapy and projects flexing my creativity. The other thought I had? How sweet and adorable my partner was, and how much I loved her: we are so different. I laughed lightly and broke the news to her with “the garden will never be finished, honey.”

A garden is never finished. It’s an adventure, and offers things you can and can’t control. Weather, pests, disease, short-lived plants, new creative directions and spaces to create. Areas to cultivate and grow new things, outdoor rooms to dream of and make become a reality. Spaces to celebrate with friends, spaces for just two to sit together on a warm summer evening relaxing and talking politics. (We are doing that a lot over here right now, thanks to a lovely extended Portland summer and a presidential election.)

A newer space in our garden made for
outdoor dining and gathering with friends and family.
The priorities of the garden change as the priorities in our lives change. It morphs and reflects our lives, adapting to its occupants, whether they be sweet blind dogs, space for large family gatherings, or movies to be projected against a sheet on summer nights. The garden is a living, breathing thing, aging and evolving right along with us.

And for the first time I can remember, September is here and I am not exhausted and done with the garden for the season. I’m moving forward with weeding, dividing, soil amending, and planting cool season crops like kale and greens. And that, is a first. I suppose I’m evolving too.

2. A book review 

I love getting my hands on novels that feature gardens. The Unfinished Garden is written by a gardener, Barbara Claypole White, and tells the story of a young widow who has thrown herself into a perennial growing business as a form of therapy after the loss of her husband to cancer. Tilly lives in North Carolina with her young son Isaac, though early in the novel travels across the pond to England to be with her aging mother and spend a summer in the gardens of her childhood.

Gardening doesn’t necessarily play center star in this novel, because Tilly becomes the object of a very rich man’s obsession and very real OCD. James is working hard to harness his mental illnesses, and the novel details the challenges he faces, the beauty of his spirit, and demonstrates we all have a little bit of OCD in each of us. It isn’t until halfway into the book that the work in the garden with James and Tilly begins, but by the time it does, the reader is immersed in the sounds, scents, and scenes of English gardens. I suppose I wish the details told of James’ OCD would have been more directed at the details of the gardens, flowers and plants themselves, it’s lovely to read descriptions of eye color as a certain color of salvia, or how the heat of a walled garden is so fragrant with herbs. These are things as a fellow gardener I recognize, know and made me smile.

I can only read so many “how to” books for gardening, and frankly, the piles of them can be exhausting. I crave stories in gardens, personal essays told from a gardener’s viewpoint, and The Unfinished Garden is a sweet read of interesting characters, grief, love and yes, gardens. Once I hit the halfway point, I couldn’t put it down. Always a good sign.

Special thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing me the book at no cost. I often receive books to review, events to promote, and products to blog about, but I only blog about those things I sincerely like and enjoy, and think my readers would too.


Barbara Claypole White said...

Thank you for reading and reviewing. And happy gardening. :)

ricki said...

My next act will be to put this book on hold at the library.

trish said...

A novel that features something you're passionate about can be so refreshing!

I agree strongly when you said that we all have a bit of OCD in us. So so true!

Thanks for being on the tour!

Bell and Star said...

So well put about the ever-evolving garden! My garden is 7 now and I'm ready to redo some things and make some other areas more low-maintenance so I can enjoy just hanging out in the garden more.


The garden and the gardener are always evolving. Interesting book, great review. Have a great weekend.