PHYLLIS ODESSEY

does garden beget garden?

What does Penelope Lively mean when she says gardening is genetic? Lively can trace her gardening DNA to her grandmother Beatrice, who gardened in Somerset; to her mother Vera who gardened an English garden in Egypt; to her own garden in Oxfordshire; to her daughter Josephine who prefers the informal; to her granddaughter, Rachel who seems to have “a serious engagement with sweet peas.”  In spite of this family tree of gardeners, Lively believes in the potential of each individual to find their own gardening potential.  “We garden for tomorrow, and thereafter.  We garden in expectation, and that is why it is so invigorating.”

Drawing by Katie Scott, who did the illustrations for the chapter headings for Life in the Garden.

Monet, Caillebotte, Renior, Vuillard, Liebermann, Nolde, Matisse, Klee, Van Gogh – the painted garden.  “And what becomes clear is that in their hands a garden- a flower – is never just a garden or a flower, but a resource for the exploration of mood and emotion, the capture of a significant moment”.

The written garden occupies another chapter, Frances Hodgson Burnett (The Secret Garden) , Carol Shields, (The Stone Diaries) Elizabeth Bowen (The Little Girls), Elizabeth von Arnim (Elizabeth and Her German Garden), Osbert Sitwell (The Making of Gardens) Anna Pavord (The Tulip), Margery Fish (We Made A Garden) Beth Chatto (The Dry Garden) Eleanor Perenyi (Green Thoughts)  Karel Capek (The Gardener’s Year), William Robinson (The Wild Garden), Gertrude Jekyll (Home and Garden) and Vita Sackville West (columns for The Observer– the volume of letters to Vita from her readers required a special mail van delivery to Sissinghurst.

When I changed careers, a friend said “you mean you are going to do yard work!”  Well, that was one way of putting it.  I prefer Penelope Lively’s idea of why we garden.  “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…  And gardening, in a small way, performs a memory feat; it corrals time, pinning it to the seasons, to the gardening year, by summoning up the garden in the past, the garden to come.  A garden is never just NOW; it suggests yesterday, and tomorrow;it does not allow time its steady progress”.

I wanted to quote a number of sentences and passages from Life in the Garden because it’s such a well written book with  much wisdom.  “gardening has this embracing quality in that it colors the way you look at the world: everything that grows, and the way in which it grows, now catches your attention; the gardening eye assesses, queries, is sometimes judgmental – quite opinionated, gardeners.  The physical world has a new eloquence”.

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