With promising signs of spring in the air, my yearning to be at work in the garden grows apace. Since the paths in the back garden are filled with water (during the day) and ice (at night), I am contenting myself with reading about gardens and enjoying the photographs my friend Nina is sending me from Sweden. (Snowdrop pic here is by Nina)
When I first began gardening seriously, I spent endless hours with my head buried in stacks of plant and landscaping books. I wanted to learn as much as I possibly could. I was on a fascinating quest … and one I suspect I will be on for the rest of my life.
Now I find myself gravitating toward books focussed less on the nitty gritty details of gardening and more on gardeners’ thoughts and inspirations. I love catching glimpses of what draws and moves them to devote so much of themselves to their gardens.
For several days now, I have been caught up in Mirabel Olsen’s enchanting world in A Gentle Plea for Chaos (1989, Bloomsbury). I would have loved walking alongside her in her English garden.
This book is divided into five sections detailing what the author calls the major aspects of her garden – trees, water, walls and climbers, roses and bulbs. The headings are really quite arbitrary and throughout the book, we are treated to the author’s delightful asides. They remind me of ambling down a path and coming across a wildflower that one stops to admire and comment on before continuing on with earlier thoughts.
Here is an example of one such stop on the path. While discussing the making of gardens through time, the author speaks of those brief, fleeting moments that make all the hard work so worth it.
Who hasn’t stood in their garden at some unexpected moment of the day, when perhaps the tension in the petals of a tree peony is almost a breath away from dissolving …. or when in a certain light there is an almost smoky aura given off by the mauve and white Japanese anemones, when black thunder clouds pass behind a laburnum tree in full flower?
Precision in gardening was of less importance to Olsen than coming across an impromptu flower self-seeding in an out-of-way corner. Throughout her book, Olsen makes the case for a bit of untidiness and random gardening. She fervently believes that gardeners should have the ‘freedom to loll’ and enjoy their gardens.
…for us, the unserious, the improper people, who plant and drift, who prune and amble, we fritter away little dollops of time in sitting about our gardens. Benches for sunrise, seats for contemplation, resting perches for the pure sublimity of smelling the evening air or merely ruminating about a distant shrub.
How could you not be drawn to Mirabel Olsen upon reading such lines? And while I would enjoy writing more about the discoveries I have made in this book, it is time to shut off the computer, give my big, brown dog a hug and journey into Olsen’s world of scented roses before I sleep.