It is a struggle this time of year, to get out of the garden and back to the writing desk. There are new beds to prepare, old beds to mulch, pots to be planted, trees and shrubs to be pruned, and weeding to be done, always the weeding. It is like a deep breath to be outside, after the long winter, an exhalation, a kind of release to be among the growing things. Damp earth, scented flowers, form and color, the music of the birds; the garden is a rich place for the senses and a restorer of the soul.
It’s a satisfaction too. And I’ve come to realize that my work in the garden is not so much an escape from my writing, but an extension of it. Like walking and cleaning, gardening involves that kind of Zen-like, often repetitive, action that frees the mind and allows the seeds of inspiration to grow. Many a mot juste has appeared while clipping the yews, many a plot issue resolved pulling pigweed from beneath the beauty bushes.
More than that, the garden tells a story. It pulls us in, it pulls us along. The garden gate, a winding path, the open field; these offer, what Jim Scott, in a Fine Gardening article, called, anticipation, tension, and release. Narrative elements applied to the natural world. The first moments in a…. garden should immediately cause the visitor to begin wondering what happens next. The master gardener crafts the garden experience, much as the novelist crafts the novel. A garden, like a good book, has an arc, it appeals to reason, the senses, and to memory. It invites us in.
I once heard that it took twenty years for a garden to mature, a number I found oppressive at the time. I wanted my garden now, my flowering crabs, my stone walls, my climbing vines, my pathways, my arbors. Patricia McLachlan once told a group of rapt listeners at Vermont College that it took her six years to complete her novel Speak. I had the same sinking feeling then. One of the gifts of gardening (and novel writing), however, is the subtle, internal shift in appreciation for process over product. Yes, results are exhilarating, but even a books changes with the reader. Nothing is every truly truly complete. Paul Valery said, a poem is never finished, only abandoned. And the same could be said for the garden. Life goes on, and best we can do is to keep planting, and weeding, and watering.