In the dark of winter, I really enjoy sitting down with my garden notebook and thinking on paper about the different parts of my future garden! My lists and sketches are filled with sentimental choices. There are certain flowers, shrubs, and trees that have very special meaning in my life, and I’d love to fill my yard with them and design the different areas in the garden around them. Here are some sentimental favorites from my garden dreams:
My husband and I visited the Portland Japanese Garden this week. After our lovely experience with the Seattle Japanese Garden in June, we were anxious to see the Portland garden. It was a beautiful day and we loved every minute we spent there. We are planning to return often and enjoy the changing seasons in this exquisite garden.
My husband and I lived in the Seattle area for 24 years, but it wasn’t until just before we moved away that we finally visited the Seattle Japanese Garden. We’d driven past it many times, but never found the right time to stop, so we decided it was one necessary visit before we left town. So at the end of the day on my husband’s last day of work before retirement, before we met friends for dinner, we stopped at the Japanese Garden. In retrospect, it was a wonderful place to celebrate our retirement. It was like a place apart — apart from the rush of our work days, our careers, and a place apart from crowds and from our every day life. As we walked through the garden, we could feel ourselves slowing down, calming down, letting go of the stress, just enjoying the incredible beauty. A perfect transition to our newly-retired life…
B and I are heading to Oregon tomorrow for Spring Break. I am so excited that we will have a few extra days to spend at our home in the Grove, not just a rushed weekend. I would LOVE to spend much of Spring Break gardening, but the weather report says rain, rain, rain. I’ll probably be out there anyway, in my flowery mud boots. All this thinking about rain and mud reminds me of one of May Sarton’s beautiful poems, “Mud Season”.
by May Sarton
In early spring, so much like late autumn,
Gray stubble and empty trees,
We must contend with an unwieldy earth.
In this rebirth that feels so much like dying,
When the bare patches bleed into raw mud,
In rain, in coarsening ooze, we have grown sluggard,
Cold to the marrow with spring’s non-arrival:
To hold what we must hold is iron-hard,
And strength is needed for mere survival.
By dogged labor we must learn to lift
Ourselves and bring a season in;
No one has ever called child-bearing easy,
And this spring-bearing also asks endurance.
We are strained hard within our own becoming,
Forced to learn ways how to renew, restore.
Though we were dazzled once by perfect snow,
What we have not has made us what we are.
Those surface consolations have to go.
In early spring, so much a fall of will,
We struggle through muds of unreason,
We dig deep into caring and contention;
The cold unwieldy earth resists the spade.
But we contend to bring a difficult birth
Out from the lack of talent, partial scope,
And every failure of imagination.
Science and art and love still be our hope!
What we are not drives us to consummation.
A few years ago I read Eudora Welty’s memoir on her life and writing, One Writer’s Beginnings. At the library last week, I noticed a book in the gardening section (where I am spending more and more time!) called One Writer’s Garden, by Susan Haltom and Jane Roy Brown. It was an exciting discovery — a beautiful thick book full of history and photographs of the Welty garden. Eudora Welty’s works are full of flowers and gardens, and it is clear that this family garden was her inspiration. I was captured immediately!
I’m immersed in the book now, fascinated with the history of the family and garden, inspired by the beautiful photographs throughout, enthralled by the stories of Miss Eudora’s life as a writer and gardener, and intrigued by her relationship with her mother and her mother’s garden!
And this morning I came into the room to discover my husband looking through the book. He, too, is fascinated by it. He showed me one photograph that he said solved the question of what kind of fence he would like to put next to the sidewalk of our new home in the Grove. He’s been struggling with the design because, as he said, the fence must compliment the house, not detract from it. We’re inspired now by Miss Eudora! …he to build a fence (how sweet to perhaps be able to call it our “Welty fence!”) and me to be inspired with the flowers I plant along our fence.
It was a beautiful Sunday in the Grove, so I was actually able to sit outside on my lovely reading porch and finish this book. It seemed right to read it outside on a warm afternoon. It seemed right to read it on a porch that was almost as old as the book itself. It was a very pleasant read, full of love for her garden and full of wry humor that revealed a writer of intelligence and independence.
Elizabeth and her German Garden, by Elizabeth Von Arnim, was written in 1898 and was a popular novel in its day. It’s suddenly become quite popular again, thanks to Downton Abbey! The novel reads more like a journal, one that reveals Elizabeth’s new passion for gardening, recounts conversations with her husband (the “man of wrath”), and describes interactions with her friends and neighbors. There’s not much plot, but that doesn’t seem to matter because you simply follow along with her life over the seasons, and it’s delightful.
Humility, and the most patient perseverance, seem almost as necessary in gardening as rain and sunshine, and every failure must be used as a stepping-stone to something better.
Von Arnim has been referred to as a “forgotten feminist.” As you read this quiet novel, and catch glimpses of the patriarchical culture of that time, you begin to appreciate her strength and independence. Her writing is timeless and her sentiments still relevant today.
Give me a garden full of strong, healthy creatures, able to stand roughness and cold without dismally giving in and dying. I never could see that delicacy of constitution is pretty, either in plants or women.
As I read it, I kept wondering if my grandmother had read it, perhaps as a young mother in the early 1900s. I thought of my grandmother a lot throughout the book. She, too, was a writer, loved flowers and gardening, and was very strong in her own quiet, gentle way. I am sure she would have enjoyed both the beauty of Von Arnim’s writing and her humor.
My favorite part of the book was the ending, so beautifully expressing my own feeling about gardening:
I do sincerely trust that the benediction that is always awaiting me in my garden may by degrees be more deserved, and that I may grow in grace, and patience, and cheerfulness, just like the happy flowers I so much love.
Most of my reading recently has been about gardens and gardening. Our beautiful old house in the Grove is waiting patiently for us to become full-time residents. The gardens, so bare and simple and easily maintained, are also waiting to be lovingly planned and planted. It will be fun to show you “before-and-after” photos in the next few years.
So, with gardening on my mind, it won’t seem strange to you at all that the current Read Aloud in my second grade classroom, is The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. My students are enraptured by it. I chose the word “enraptured” very carefully because there is a lovely Magic in this book, and my students have been captured by it, my boys perhaps even more than my girls!
One sweet example of that Magic happened last week. One of my boys, who is a struggling reader but an rapt listener, came to me quietly one afternoon and said, “Mrs. R, I think I’m starting to speak Yorkshire! “Tha’ and Thee just come out of me without thinking about it.” That kind of magic is helping him love reading even though it is difficult for him.
I think my Reading Self also chose this book (without consciously thinking about it), because it is a book about emotional healing. And I must confess that reading it aloud to this sweet group of children has had a very healing effect on me! I so enjoyed the beautiful descriptions of the garden and of the healing power of gardening!
Any book with “garden” in the title catches my eye these days. And this one had both “garden” and “Virginia Woolf,” as well as a lovely cover, so it was a must. It’s an enjoyable read with a story that imagines a mysterious ending to Virginia Woolf‘s life, and with a little bit about the White Garden at Sissinghurst Castle. Click here to read a nice review of the book by my blogging friend, Sam Sattler, at Book Chase.