Monday, February 23, 2009

Book Review - "My Natural History" by Liz Primeau

"The garden is not the place for control freaks and perfectionists, and yet I know that in may callow youth I tried to make mine conform. I used to wish for the time when it would be finished, when it would reach the perfection I envisioned. Now I know it's going to be different every year, and I will have had less to do with how it looks than I'd hoped, beyond setting out the basic plan and guiding and maintaining the plants."
Liz Primeau
With the temperature outside dipping below -20ยบ C, venturing outdoors results in nipped fingers and toes. So I opted for staying indoors and cozying up to the fireplace with a hot cup of tea and a good book. I do like winter for the opportunity it affords to get caught up on my garden reading. And so I settled down to read “My Natural History, The Evolution of a Gardener” by Liz Primeau, a fellow garden writer.

I enjoyed this chronology of Liz’s life and the role gardening has played in helping her to deal with the challenges life serves each one of us. The way in which digging in the soil, nuturing plants can act to nurture the soul and create a sanctuary of peaceful feelings. I can certainly relate to many of the gardening experiences Liz recounted such as the tomatillos that reseeded wantonly (who hasn’t planted something they later wished they hadn’t although it seemed like a good idea at the time). Liz’s tales of her battles with squirrels and raccoons had me chuckling as I too have a yard full of black squirrels who’s presence have me alternating between loving their antics and hating them digging my bulbs and last fall we too waged war to eradicate five raccoons from their happy home in our eaves.

Finally, as Liz and I are of the same vintage her “Six Stages of Gardening” hit home with me, and I’m sure others. When you’ve been gardening for a while, your concept of the garden matures and develops over time but is something that you must learn and experience. As Liz said, “…these stages echo the stages in our lives, from the desire for immediate gratification in our youth to the deeper and mellower pleasures of maturity.”

I found Liz’s memoir to be entertaining recap of her life’s connection to the garden and gardening sprinkled with garden history and floral references. Perfect reading for a wintry afternoon.

Liz Primeau’s book is available through Greystonebooks at

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Tranquility of the Chinese Garden

"So I will build my altar in the fields,
And the blue sky my fretted dome shall be,
And the sweet fragrance that the wild flower yields
Shall be the incense I will yeild to Thee."
S.T. Coleridge
It's one of those 'cloudy bright' days as my husband would say, the sun just barely shining through a film of gauzy clouds. The snow returned overnight, the gusty winds creating dramatic drifts of architectural sculptures and as I look out the window, our squirrels scamper in and out, over and under the drifts. It's been a long, cold winter and for some reason today I just began to dream about warmth and the return of the green landscape full of blooms and wildlife.
I was thinking about the garden and the cycles of life, remembering my trip last fall to the Chinese Garden in the heart of Portland, Oregon. Amid the hustle and bustle of downtown, shrouded by stone walls was an oasis of beauty and tranquility. I have now visited several Chinese gardens around the world and in each I find a special beauty in the simplicity of the plantings and the emphasis on the natural beauty of rock and water. And in this simplicity there comes a calm, a peacefulness that transcends time. Perhaps because Chinese gardens even today model those of the ancient past, a symbol of longevity and stability in an ever changing world. And yet as my reflective photo above shows the juxtaposition with the modern world of today. Sometimes I feel like the renowned author and illustrator Tash Tudor, who passed away last year, rooted in the past, straddling the abyss and yet being called to the future. But life as the seasons of the garden moves on and so must we. So today I will just enjoy the beauty and rest that has presented itself and continue to dream patiently about what is to come, remembering the ancient wisdom of this old proverb:
"Patience is a flower that grows not in everyone's garden."