New Age hokum meets true perception in this work of horticultural confession and counsel. ``Inner gardening is about thinking for yourself, being yourself, and then watching the results flower around you.'' Handelsman, onetime gardening columnist for New Age Journal and Vogue, finds in plant life a dependable source of human spiritual renewal. For her, gardening is an introspective pleasure that doubles as a metaphor for our own survival. In this collection of linked essays about her coming of age as a gardener and as a woman, the metaphor can be strikingly persuasive when the writer decides to tell revelatory personal stories. For instance, her account of watching a 100-year-old cottonwood tree, ``like a living green Sphinx,'' be felled near her home in Bishop, Calif., conveys the horror of gratuitous slaughter and helpless mortality with a disarming power. But when Handelsman writes in more general terms about gardening's virtues, she sometimes makes herself ridiculous. This devout member of the Prince Charles school of plant relations- -i.e., talk to 'em--advises us: ``Ask the plant to help you'' and ``Thank your plants whenever you can.'' She believes that ``plants provide unconditional love,'' and she needs them to. So when beneficially predatory praying mantises turned up to patrol her cosmos flowers, she ``blew them kisses and billed and cooed.'' Sentimentality set loose in a yard can seem deranged, no matter how good the cause. Some unusual insights are mixed in here with utter daftness.