“Making a garden is not a gentle hobby for the elderly, to be picked up and laid down like a game of solitaire. It is a grand passion. It seizes a person whole, and once it has done so he will have to accept that his life is going to be radically changed.”
So writes May Sarton in her biographical Plant Dreaming Deep which chronicles her first experiences as a homeowner. A total novice when it came to domestic matters, Sarton undertakes her first nesting experience with gusto.
In addition to remodeling the house, Sarton plants her first garden and discovers that gardening provided a perfect compliment to her literary life.
“One of the things gardening does for me is to provide a way of resting without being bored,” she says. “A day divided between writing in the morning and gardening in the afternoon has a good balance. And gardening is so rich in sensuous pleasures that I hardly notice its solitariness.”
Sarton isn’t the first writer to discover that gardening is a fine muse, of course. Consider the career of prolific Beverley Nichols.
According to his Wikipedia profile, “Between his first book, the novel Prelude, published in 1920, and his last, a book of poetry, Twilight, published in 1982, Nichols wrote more than 60 books and plays. Besides novels, mysteries, short stories, essays and children’s books, he wrote a number of nonfiction books on travel, politics, religion, cats, parapsychology, and autobiography. He wrote for a number of magazines and newspapers throughout his life.”
Despite his prolific literary output, Nichols is most remembered for his gardening books which share his personal experiences creating luscious green spots in London and in Surrey. Here’s a sample from Rhapsody in Green.
“In creating a garden we are creating—or endeavouring to create—a work of art. We are not merely filling a blank space around the house, nor contriving a playground for tots, nor providing ourselves with enough spinach for our old age.”
Although gardening can be a satisfying undertaking in and of itself, of course, what Sarton and Nichols discovered is that taking up gardening also had a positive impact on their other creative endeavors.
And they’re not alone. Amy Stewart’s From the Ground Up is a wonderful story about a young woman’s first attempts at gardening. Her challenges and triumphs will sound familiar to anyone who’s raised a startup business.
Another book I enjoyed is Ruth Kassinger’s Paradise Under Glass: An Amateur Creates a Conservatory Garden. Her first visits to the garden center were reminiscent of my first visits to a computer store.
This is just a small sampling of the tales told by gardeners who found unexpected adventures in their own backyards. If you’ve read and enjoyed a gardening biography, add your favorites to the comments here.
There’s one other story that I’m delighted to share. Holly Hirshberg, one of my Facebook friends, has been nominated for a CNN Hero award because of her work with The Dinner Garden. Here’s her inspiring story that appeared on CNN this weekend.