Regular readers know how much I enjoy nature and gardens. It is one of life’s ironies that my plants only thrive despite my loving care, and many is the time I have made bloomers in the little patch I tend to. However, never one to shy away from blooming from the bloomers, I picked up this book, Life in the Garden, By Penelope Lively.
Lively begins by examining the gardens in Literature starting with the Garden of Eden, and working her way through other fantastical gardens in the books, The Secret Garden, Alice in Wonderland and the beloved gardens of dear, absent-minded Lord Emsworth’s at Blandings castle.
She examines the writing and finds out which of the writers are gardeners themselves and which of them have merely picked up the scenery from a gardening catalog. She teases the co-ordination of colors, the seasonality of the plants themselves in the landscapes and has given me an entirely different appreciation of gardens.
Some passages are especially endearing and made me want to read them again. Especially her meditations on time, the gardener and the garden itself.
I quote from her book:
“To garden is to elide past, present and future; it is a defiance of time. You garden today for tomorrow; the garden mutates from season to season, always the same, but always different. … In autumn, I plant up a pot of “Tete-a-Tete” daffodils, seeing in the minds eye what they will look like in February. We are always gardening for a future we are supposing, assuming, a future. I am doing that at eighty-three; the hydrangea paniculata “Limelight” I have just put in will outlast me, in all probability, but I am requiring it to perform while I can still enjoy it.”
“The great defiance of time is our capacity to remember – the power of memory. Time streams away behind us, and beyond, but individual memory shapes for each of us, a known place. We own a particular piece of time; I was there then, I did this, saw tear, felt thus.”
She goes on to say,
“A garden is never just now; it suggests yesterday, and tomorrow; it does not allow time its steady progress. “
Certainly, for me, part of the appeal of gardening is this ambivalent relationship with time; the garden performs in cycles, it reflects the seasons, but it also remembers and anticipates, and in so doing takes the gardener with it.”
As I look out the window at my clover-filled backyard with some foxgloves looking happy amidst the narcissi blossoms and the newly sprouted cherry leaves after their spectacular show of cherry blossoms, and the rose buds ready to burst forth in a few weeks,I cannot help feel the lessons nature is teaching us. Be forward looking – always, nurture what is important, and enjoy the passage of time. One moment at a time. Every flower has its chance to bloom and fade.
Gardens are enduring lessons in hope. I cannot tell you the number of times, I have planted something in October and been surprised when they bloom in April, or the number of times, I have been pleasantly surprised that something thrived at all.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
Emily Dickinson – Hope
I am lackadaisical at best with my gardening and it shows. I have a minuscule patch that seriously has more air-time on the blog than the square feet it occupies. Yet, it gives me immense pleasure, peace and calm. Spurred on by the book, I went outside to take a more active role in the tending of my plants. I have been admiring the sweet peas plants that have sprouted in the garden. Some time ago, I got a packet of sweet pea seeds from our local library. Thrilled at finding them, I scattered them by the apricot tree and forgot about them. The plants are thriving now, quite tall, and seem to be sagging. So, I went – “Coming dears! Here I am to take care of you!”, I said, in my best nurturing voice and tried to prop up the plants as best as I could, in the process, breaking off one of the plants’ main stems.
If the plants in my patch could talk, they would’ve chorused – “Go inside – we know you love us, just let us thrive! Breaking off our stems indeed!”