I cannot think of a better way to celebrate spring than with a visit to The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic piece of children’s literature about a willful girl, pain and loss, and the healing power of gardening. By the way, do not be turned off by the “children’s literature” label — it’s a story that knows no age.
I must admit that although this book was first published in 1911, I never got around to reading it – and that was a huge mistake. Yes, I am familiar with the various film interpretations, but I never treated myself to the beauty of Burnett’s written words.
My second mistake was downloading the free Kindle version. With each “page,” I found myself nodding along as Burnett captured in language all of my thoughts about gardening. And with each nod, I craved an illustration. Fortunately, the strength of the prose allowed me to paint the images in my mind.
Before The Secret Garden was published in book format, it ran as a serial – sort of like posts on a blog. To correct my mistakes, I would like to invite Frances Hodgson Burnett to be today’s guest blogger via a few spring-like passages.
We all know we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover – but is it polite to judge it by its title?
Take, for example, Year of Wonders, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Geraldine Brooks. On the surface, it seems like a pleasant name for a book – inspirational and awe-inspiring. It’s the haunting tagline under the title that seems a little unnerving: “A Novel of the Plague.”
Not exactly an uplifting subject – and yet, it was all that and more.
Based on true life events, this fictional account focuses on a small English village in which Plague has taken hold. Under the guidance of the local minister, the town quarantines itself – and through the eyes of Anna, we witness moments of horror and joy, life and death, infection and healing.
As Plague ravishes this small community, the reader witnesses Anna’s spiritual growth. As a woman who has faced monumental losses, she is able to face life one step at a time, to learn, to find her purpose as a healer and midwife, and to discover her voice – no small feat for a woman in 1666.
Through Brooks’ rich and eloquent prose, the reader is allowed to witness Anna’s p
Prior to starting this blog, I did very little garden-related reading. In fact, most of the garden reading I had done was the technical kind, usually to research a plant or a seed. It never crossed my mind to want to read a gardening book for pleasure – and now I find myself craving garden books and garden blogs. Recently, I read two remarkable books at the same time, and I am enchanted.
From the moment I received One Writer’s Garden, by Susan Haltom and Jane Roy Brown, from my friend Catherine, I knew it would be a difficult book to categorize. It’s definitely a gardening book, but it’s a biography and a history book, as well – all woven together with strands of roses and irises and camellias.
The garden, located in Jackson, Mississippi, was designed and planted by Chestina Welty, an amazing woman who passed her love of gardening on to her daughter, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Eudora Welty. In beautifully written narrative, the reader is transported to a time that now seems almost other-worldly.
When children recite, “Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?” perhaps a more appropriate question would be, “From where does your garden grow?” That’s the question I ‘m asking myself this Columbus Day weekend after reading the best-selling new book 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, by Charles C. Mann. This meticulously researched book examines the world after Columbus set foot in North America.
While Columbus certainly has his critics, there can be no mistaking that his arrival in the New World placed the entire world on the globalization frontier. The author’s position is that much of what we enjoy today can be traced back to what he calls the Columbian Exchange, a means of moving plants and seeds and animals from one part of the world to another part. It is why, for example, that tomatoes arrived in Italy and citrus arrived in Florida. So much of what we take for granted wasn’t always so; and much of it would not be if Columbus had not set the process in motion.
I myself am a bit of a mutt: English, Scottish, German, French, and Italian. My paternal ancestors arrived in North America in 1675; my maternal great-grandfather entered through Ellis Island. While this is my gene pool, I wonder just how diverse and worldly is my garden?
Thanks to the Internet and Google, I learned that what I plant has traveled a long way to be planted. In fact, my garden could be a lesson for world leaders seeking peace. Although it heavily favors Asia and Central and South Americas, there is little conflict in plants from many lands successfully sharing common ground. (Note to self: bring Australia into the mix, but wait until full-out global warming for Antarctica to come into bloom.)
And to think my melting pot only took 518 years — and still counting — to plant.
Happy Columbus Day — and enjoy the weekend in the garden.
A few weeks ago, I saw an excellent review of a new book, Anthill, by E.O. Wilson. Still, after reading the review, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get bogged down in a book about ants and an environmentalist. That’s what I thought until the other day, when I visited my local library and saw the title on the new book shelf. Clearly it was calling me, and I took a chance. I’m glad that I did.
The novel traces the life of Raff Cody, an inquisitive, eco-friendly young man living “on the Gulf Coastal Plain, on the fringe of the North American subtropics,” also known as Alabama. Throughout his boyhood, Raff is completely enamored of an undeveloped piece of pristine Alabama land. His commitment to his environment follows him through high school into college, then onto Harvard Law and into corporate America.
What is truly stunning in Mr. Wilson’s first work of fiction is the care the Pulitzer Prize-winning author takes in describing and celebrating the rich biodioversity that often comes into conflict with developers. While most of the book follows the efforts of Raff to preserve his piece of the planet while balancing his corporate responsibilities, one section can stand on its own as an impressive piece of writing.