I had the nicest compliment the other day. I was just returning with Katie from our morning walk and met a couple of women also out with their dogs. The pups did their usual meet and sniff. One of the women said she intentionally walks her dog on the sidewalk that borders my garden because there is always something new to see. When I designed my garden, that was the program I had in mind and it was great to hear I had accomplished what I had set out to do. Design is, after all, is purposeful and mindful.
The garden was unusually quiet this morning, unusual for a bright and sunny December day.
Two blogs ago I wrote about a hawk I saw in the birch tree who subsequently startled a squirrel. Today, he is victorious. Not with a squirrel, but with a sparrow. I had just come down to get a cup of tea when I noticed several sparrows and juncos hopping about. I thought about how aggressive the sparrows are at the feeder–even to their own kind– that the smaller birds like the chickadees don’t usually get a chance, that maybe I would get an additional feeder and fill it with seed that maybe the sparrows aren’t so keen over. Yesterday when I filled the feeder I spread some seed on the ground, too, as the juncos seem to prefer to scratch around instead of duking it out with the sparrows. And I like the juncos, so I’m happy to spread some seed for them. Having just completed this thought process I noticed the hawk sweep in and in a flurry of flight and feathers all the little birds were gone–but one. I grabbed the binoculars and saw that the hawk had pinned a sparrow beneath his talons, turning his head to see that no one was left to challenge him. I felt a chill come over me. Perhaps the food is so easy for the sparrows, they are so attentive to it, that they have become a bit careless in protecting themselves. I turned away. By the time I left to head to my studio the feeder stood vacant, swaying a bit in the winter breeze while empty of birds.
I had not intended this newsletter to be about hawks and squirrels, but the image fresh in my mind I thought it good to write about. When we invite wildlife to our gardens, we invite it all, including those that feed on what we invite. Much of this happens without our notice– in terms of the microscopic activity of soil life as well as that of beneficial insects; it’s all part of the package of the garden. And a reminder that things are at work in the bigger book of nature, unceasingly.
Now we can get to the topic at hand: good reads for gardeners. First, the title of this blog comes from a favorite line of a Walt Whitman poem called, “This is What You Shall Do.” The first line reads, “Love the Earth and the Sun and All the Animals.” The poem concludes with “Read these leaves in the open air,/ Every season of every year of your life…Dismiss whatever insults your own soul,/And your very flesh shall be a great poem.” I adore Walt Whitman’s poetry for contained in it is the very best “stuff” of life, the parts are really the whole. I feel this same way about great books for gardeners. These books are not necessarily technique books. Rather, they are great ways to stay connected to the garden and the outdoors even when it’s winter. They are also thoughtful, inspiring and entertaining. Here are a few I really like. Note: these books are great not just for those who love gardens as their themes extend well beyond the borders of a fence or patch of green:
1. Anything by Beverly Nichols, especially Green Grows the City. Mr. Nichols was an extremely talented writer, musician, and gardener. HIs wit is unparalleled when he writes of the garden and I frequently laugh out loud as I read. The page bottom color bar of the newsletter page contains a quote from Green Grows the City;
2. Anne Raver’s Deep in the Green. I love the dialogue between Anne and her father in the chapter titled, “The Language of the Heart;”
3. Animal, Vegetable, Mineral by Barbara Kingsolver. If you have not yet begun to embrace eating local foods, this book will inspire you appropriately;
4. The Writer in the Garden Edited by Jane Garmey. A very nice collection with writers from the time of Alexander Pope to the contemporary. I enjoyed “Hurrah for Vulgarity” by Christopher Lloyd. I usually call this the “Ta-DA!-ness of flowers, as if they could say, “Just look at me because I am just magnificent.” Last summer’s dahlias were in this category. (But yes, it should be tempered and thoughtfully considered as a garden full of too many “moments” is a bad thing. Please call if you feel things are heading that direction. Help is available for this condition.)
5. The Faithful Gardener by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Because we are the stories we tell and good gardens are also good metaphors.
Thank you….and if you enjoy this blog, please send it to a friend!