A memoir about how gardening sharpens the eye and buoys the spirit.
In a graceful melding of memoir and reflections on literature and art, award-winning fiction and children’s book author Lively (The Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories, 2017, etc.), a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, celebrates the delights of planning, planting, weeding, and harvesting a garden. For her, gardening is “both formative and essential,” honing “an extra way of looking about me, and an abiding and enriching engagement” with the world. The gardener, she writes, “is always noticing, appreciating, recording.” Besides recounting family gardens in Cairo and Somerset, her own gardens in Oxford and London, and her exuberant trips to garden centers, Lively considers the meaning of gardens to writers such as Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton (she admires Wharton’s “delectable” and “lavish” French gardens), Willa Cather, and Laura Ingalls Wilder, who indelibly evoked the “practical, essential” importance of the pioneer garden. To Lively, Beatrix Potter’s Mr. McGregor is “the archetypal gardener in literary fiction.” Artists—Monet, Van Gogh, Klee, Klimt, Matisse, and Edvard Munch, among many others—were drawn to gardens as “a resource for the exploration of colour possibilities, of the evanescence of light and movement, the study of form and structure” as well as for “the expression of mood and emotion.” Lively returns often to the theme of time, which gardening makes strikingly visible. “We are always gardening for a future,” she observes; “we are supposing, assuming, a future.” At the age of 84, she is aware that some of her current plantings “will outlast me,” but they produce joy nevertheless. Gardening, she adds, “corrals time, pinning it to the seasons, to the gardening year, by summoning up the garden in the past, the garden to come.” The gardener “floats free of the present, and looks forward, acquires expectations, carries next spring in the mind’s eye.”
A gentle elegy on the “charisma” of gardens.