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CULTIVATING DELIGHT by Diane Ackerman Kirkus Star


A Natural History of My Garden

by Diane Ackerman

Pub Date: Oct. 8th, 2001
ISBN: 0-06-019986-5
Publisher: HarperCollins

A rapt and lovely seasonal pilgrimage, perfectly attuned, through Ackerman’s (Deep Play, 1999, etc.) home garden to points beyond.

Time pools as Ackerman takes readers through the gardens around her home in Ithaca, New York. She enjoys simply hanging out, is highly distractible, spontaneously journeys off to big thoughts—beauty, mortality, fear—as she deadheads the asters, and like a Romantic garden, she comes with lots of surprises. She is highly observant (“There’s a cricket head lying on the flagstone, probably left by a toad”) and seems to know the life story and cultural history behind every plant in her landscape, redbud to leucothoe to her legions of roses. The outdoors feeds her—“Wonder is a bulky emotion; when it fills the heart and mind there’s little room for anything else. We need the intimate truths of daylight and deer”—and has very much filled her mind with wondrous imagery: hummingbird nests of lichen and spider silk, roses that break their necks in a blooming fury, “apple trees ripe as a gin mill.” Ackerman likes to reveal nature’s intricate machinery: How does a bird know which one has been fed in a nest full of gaping mouths? Why is that cardinal shivering in June? This she balances with all the mystery that remains in the garden, in particular the workings of fate, as when she is bitten hard by the disappearance of a wren family after their birdhouse took a fall. Each season brings its stamp, but spring has got Ackerman in her pocket—“the air tastes tinny and sweet”—and, good Northeasterner that she is, she measures its progress against the buffetings of winter as if holding on for dear life: “Spring travels north at about thirteen miles a day, which is 47.6 feet per minute. I start looking for subtle clues and signs.”

Like Pan, Ackerman is an unpredictable sensualist in the garden, and one with lots of facts. A more gladdening companion would be hard to imagine.