Nonfiction

FINALIST! 2008 Indie Book Awards, Home/Garden and Nature/Environment categories

Open Your Heart with Gardens looks at plants from a new angle — that is, the many angles of approach to the living green world.

From hobby to healing, as sanctuary or for sharing, for art, entertainment, and even survival, gardens help us nurture our unique natures.

The narrative weaves together the author’s experience plus stories from people around America revealing how plants bring peace; empowerment; joy; refreshment; and other positive feeling or purpose to life. Tips on gardening across environments show how to fit plants into most any lifestyle, integrating the physical and the spiritual into a balanced whole.

Opening our hearts to gardens opens our minds to a larger world, which then opens new doors to opportunity and fulfillment. It all starts with gardens, just as gardens start from seeds.

Published by DreamTime Publishing (www.dreamtimepublishing.com), March 2008

UPDATE: This book is now out of print, though some copies are still available through online sellers. All rights have reverted back to me, so I will be reissuing it as a stand-alone volume in the future, in both print and e-book formats, date to be determined.

Supporting blog at Adventures in Zone 3

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EXCERPT 1

Introduction

Some people grumble because roses have thorns; I am thankful that the thorns have roses. —Alphonse Karr

Each year, it happens afresh:

After months of brown and gray and white … cold and hard and dark … the day comes when I step outside and behold a tip of green protruding from the ground.

The first daffodil!

The sight of it drops me to my knees, mentally chanting, Thankyouthankyouthankyou! Then I leap up into The Happy Dance because there at my feet lies proof that the world has kept turning, the invisible forces of the universe have kept churning, and Mother Nature has again fulfilled her promise despite everything I doubted and feared.

Thankyouthankyouthankyou!

People who live in dry climates probably feel this way when the rains come, as do folks in gray and soggy places when the sun finally emerges. Me, I live in the mountains of northern New England, where snow can be on the ground from October through May, and every winter, for days—sometimes weeks—the temperatures can sit at double-digits below zero. The environment becomes a cruel antagonist. I can’t imagine how anything, much less a tender plant, survives.

To me it’s a miracle when that first daffodil breaks through. The annual surge of joy and gratitude that accompanies it is what first opened my heart to gardens.

It started, indeed, with daffodils. Inspired by their signal of spring rebirth, and cheered into summer by their happy yellow, I needed to ensure they came back; so I planted more in autumn. Hope for their survival carried me through winter. They rewarded me the following spring, year after year after year.

Like sunshine incarnate, daffodils warmed my soul enough to want to share the glow with other people. I began planting bulbs every autumn wherever I lived, whether the landlord allowed gardens or not. Many times I changed dwellings so soon that I never saw whether the daffodils grew and blossomed. Knowing that they probably did—and that I’d left behind a ray of sunshine—let me move on without regret into the next chapter of my life.

Eventually I came to rest at a home I could call my own, complete with somebody else’s left-behind garden: overgrown, in some places hidden, a relic of love begging to be revived. We moved in during the depth of winter, so that first spring was a bounty of discovery. And that first autumn I planted daffodil bulbs. The following spring, some of them blossomed. Ironically, here at my permanent residence, many of my daffodils have failed to return in subsequent years. Trying to figure out why, and how to build the swath of them I’ve always dreamed of, pulled me into the mysteries of plant lore—doubly provoked by the daffodil clusters planted by the previous owner, which thrive in the shady bog where they’re not supposed to be able to grow.

I never consciously decided to garden. Instead, my heart was captured by something elemental that led to a richness of experience I didn’t imagine yet sought in other places but never found.

I guess I was predisposed to it, given that our suburban family home was the only one on the street without a rectangular, uniformly green front lawn. Instead, it was edged with a low stone wall containing a solid mass of myrtle, through which flagstones zigzagged to the front door. A Japanese maple arched as centerpiece, and random sparks of yellow, white, and purple crocus popped up each spring. Toward the end of the season, a flowering quince dropped gold orbs into the underbrush, while a wisteria that canopied the front porch dropped long, crunchy pods. Midsummer, we competed with the birds for blueberries in the backyard, and ate tomatoes that didn’t come from the store. All because my mother had opened her heart to gardens.

She’s the one who gave me the poetry book that inclined my own heart to daffodils. I was nine, and it was a winter gift—“Happy New Year,” she inscribed—one of the first books of my own. Amid its delightful and poignant mix of verses was this classic:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd—
A host, of golden daffodils,
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay;
Ten thousand saw I, at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee;
A poet could not but be gay
In such a jocund company;
I gazed and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought.

For oft, when on my couch I lie,
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude,
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

William Wordsworth
“I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”
(Poems in Two Volumes, 1807)

In the decades since, I’ve found that while the sunrise gets me through each day, the daffodils get me through each year.

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EXCERPT 2

Epilogue

Of all the wonderful things in the wonderful universe of God, nothing seems to me more surprising than the planting of a seed in the blank earth and the result thereof. —Julie Moir Messervy

My heart opened to gardens when I wasn’t looking. The process started early in my life, with a general sense of well-being when I was outdoors. As I grew, the feeling began to focus into sensory delight: The happy crunch of leaves underfoot, and their bedazzling fall colors; the brilliant blue of a cloudless sky, and the eerily beautiful, deep indigo of full-moon shadows thrown across snow; the pale, pale tinge of pink inside a white peony, and the surprise scent of rose when you touch your nose to it and inhale; the hundred shades of green, so vivid they threaten to burst, as spring gains hold on the land and everything is growing as vigorously as it can.

Eventually curiosity wakened. What’s that? I kept wondering, then looked it up if no one could tell me. After I knew one plant’s name, I wanted to know them all. Soon I wanted to know why that plant grew here but not there, or whether you could eat it. That led to favorites, which, I learned upon attaining adulthood, I could actually cause to grow in my personal space! No longer did I have to wait to chance upon them.

During the many years that passed before I owned personal growing space, I grabbed it where I could. Sometimes this amounted to nurturing a single jade plant or aloe plant in a dusty window. Other times I secretly buried bulbs around the base of an apartment building where gardens were forbidden. Once my apartment came with a whole strip of grass along a sidewalk, which I ripped out and replaced with a little flower and vegetable garden, only to have the blossoms and fruits get snipped off by passing college students. Always, no matter where I lived, there was God’s Garden, and Other People’s Gardens, to be viewed and inhaled and enjoyed.

Finally, I had my own garden—actually, half a dozen plots spread around several acres—and embarked upon the adventures of discovery recounted in this book. Yet I never considered myself a gardener, because working with plants wasn’t my consuming passion. I believed you had to feel that passion in order to qualify as a gardener, especially to be dubbed “a green thumb.”

Many more years passed before I realized that passion doesn’t have to burn inside like a forest fire; rather, it can smolder quietly, like an internal, warming ember. And that’s how it was with me. Every time I thought about not doing a garden this year, my heart rebelled. I had to have flowers in the spring. I had to have vegetables in the summer. I had to tidy it all up and wave it goodbye in the fall. I had to plan the next one during the winter. I didn’t burn to spend all my free time doing it, but I had to do it somehow, in some way.

This came as a surprise. Why was having a garden so important? Because that’s how I measure time, and how I stay connected to my humanity—that is, my humanness, a child of the universe in self-aware mammal form. I am cousin to the plants and animals and birds and bugs despite physical isolation from them brought by all the miracles of today’s world that keep us warm and safe and dry and fed. Yet the natural cycles of day to night, spring-summer-fall-winter, birth-growth-death-rebirth, run constant through our lives no matter what else is going on. So keeping a garden keeps me in tune.

Understanding moved me to intent. Now I make sure that I garden, whether I’m in the mood or not. A measure of its healing force is the number of times I start out not-in-the-mood and end up not wanting to stop! On some days, my mind goes blissfully blank and I become a simple, sensate organism; on other days, the physical work channels thoughts into new directions, so that I emerge from a session with fresh ideas to solve old problems, or inspiration to follow into all-new directions.

Throughout, the curiosity that got me started continues unabated. That curiosity, along with immersion in the cycles of life, keeps joy bubbling beneath my diaphragm and my vision looking ever forward. Mostly, though, this act of keeping in tune with life holds me in an active state of appreciation of life—my own, and all others’. Viewing the world from this angle opened my heart in spite of myself. I’m hoping, through this book, to share the sensation and help you find it for yourself, too.

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One Response to Nonfiction

  1. Candy says:

    This is beautiful, Carolyn! I’m putting Open Your Heart…on my wish list.

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