Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A predecessor to the garden blog

What do garden bloggers do anyway? Some write to inform their readers about garden-related topics, and perhaps defend a point of view, but in most cases, blogs are like public journals of a garden's progress and the gardener's reflections. It's no wonder that one friend recommended that I attend BNAN's workshop on keeping a garden journal (which, unfortunately, I missed due to a conflict), and another lent me her copy of An Island Garden Daybook by the late poet Celia Thaxter.

Over a hundred years ago, Thaxter returned to the place where she spent part of her childhood, on one of the Isles of Shoals off the coast of New Hampshire, and created and tended a spectacular garden featuring fifty varieties of flowers, including hollyhocks, sunflowers, lupines, poppies--many that can be found in the Minton Stable Garden today. While modern-day bloggers rely on their digital cameras for visual documentation, Thaxter benefitted from the talents of her painting instructor, Childe Hassam. His paintings of flowers, birds, and garden landscapes provided the illustrations for her book The Island Garden.

The 1990 reissue by the Houghton Mifflin Company features excerpts from Thaxter's text and Hassam's artwork alongside blank spaces for each date of any given year, but whose documentary scribble can compete with poetic observations such as this?

The snowdrops by the door
Lift upward, sweet and pure,
Their delicate bells; and soon,
In the calm blaze of noon,
By lowly window-sills
Will laugh the daffodils!

Even if the book wasn't on loan, I would probably just as well leave the expression of the joys and trials of gardening on these pages up to Thaxter. We are both New England gardeners, after all, operating in similar climates on similar schedules. About late May, Thaxter writes: "Pulling up and throwing away...superfluous plants is a very difficult thing for me to do...but it must be done...The welfare of the garden depends on it." I can certainly relate, on the painful experience of digging out a volunteer sunflower, denying its majestic future in my plot to ensure adequate sun on my tomatoes and broccoli, and yanking out strawberry runners invading my perennials despite the potential for even more sweet fruit.

Celia Thaxter is one of many writers whose gardening experience most likely enhanced not only her writing but her ability to keenly observe her surroundings. As I've worked on my own documentation over the past year, I find myself taking more notes, and looking for details that I had recently taken for granted, including the size of a plant, the contrast of colors, the level of ease or difficulty involved in pulling a weed...just as a garden remains a work in progress, so is the writing.

Now I'm looking forward to this moment in late June when, as Thaxter states: "...I can begin to take a breath and rest a little from these difficult yet pleasant labors; an interval when I may take time to consider, a morning when I may seek the hammock in the shady piazza, and, looking across my happy flower beds, let the sweet day sink into my heart."


flowers said...

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Dan said...

I am looking forward to that moment in Late June too. I am almost there, a few more things to plant, some weeding and everything will be in order for the year. Now all I need is a hammock.

Bryan Bunch said...

I do have everything planted (and noticed the soil cracking above the squash and bean seeds, so they are on their way), so I can rest--actually, I am having an operation, so there will be some enforced rest for most of June.

Your post reminded me of a book that I loved when I started gardening: "To Every Thing There is a Season: A Gardner's Year" by Thalassa Cruso. You might give it a try.

Two things that I find difficult: (1) Keeping a gardening log; although I write a lot every day, the systematic diary does not happen. (2) Pulling out the unnecessary plant that is actually in the way of something else; for me these days it is raspberries.