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Why Gardening Makes Writing Easier

Laurie among baskets and plant stakes in her garden room in the barn behind the house.

Only a white clapboard wall of my house separates the indoor and outdoor parts of my existence: the writer and the gardener. The divide is porous, as light comes in the windows, but it is also enormous because of the way it affects my emotions.

 

Whenever I walked out the basement door into the backyard, I discovered as I wrote in Four Tenths of an Acre: Reflections on a Gardening Life, that "whenever I was worried about anything--my writing, my love life, or the yard itself--going outside was like passing through a looking glass from a darker to a lighter state of mind." Even though it's difficult to garden in the harsh and unpredictable New England weather, gloom always dissipated when I began to deadhead and weed, even though I know that more weeds will spring up after the next rainstorm. This doesn't happen when I dust and pick up inside, even though I love all the small the rooms of the house.

 

Once I marveled about this to my mother, a gifted and passionate gardener, and asked her why it was so much more rewarding for us to turn decomposing cuttings in a compost pile than to mix together the ingredients of a chocolate cake. She thought for a moment and then offered: "because it's outside." Being outside wasn't the only reason, but it was reason enough because it explained that being absorbed by what makes everything grow--from bright air to dark porous soil--gives buoyancy to a gardener.

 

I also learned that after hours using my body in the garden, it feels good to go back inside and use my brain in my writing room.

 

 

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How Emily Dickinson Got Her Inspiration

What is it about writing and gardening? The way they go together for writing gardeners and gardening writers? One of the latter myself, I believe they complement each other because of the way one works the brain and the other the body.

When writing my gardening memoir, Four Tenths of An Acre, I discovered intriguing information about poet Emily Dickinson's fascination with flowers. Her large family garden in Amherst, Massachusetts was where she trained her eye, experiences the vicissitudes of nature, and found eloquent metaphors for her poems.

She described her imagination "the garden within," and began a poem with the words: "This is a Blossom of the Brain." She gave specific flowers human qualities, like humility in the little wild yellow buttercup.

A facsimile edition of her gorgeous girlhood scrapbook of carefully identified and pressed plants is testament to her early love and knowledge of the flowers that would inspire her poems. Find it in a library to page through and enjoy! Read More 
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Getting Ideas in the Garden

The late prize-winning poet Stanley Kunitz had a house in Provincetown, Massachusetts, at the edge of the sea on the tip of Cape Cod, where he grew plants and wrote poems into his nineties.

In his wonderful little book, The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden, he described his garden as "a work of the imagination" and his unconscious mind as "a wilderness."

What he called "the wild permissiveness of the inner life" allowed dangerous, rebellious, and even unwelcome ideas to arrive unbidden, but they were the perceptions that fed his creative imagination.

I know what he means, as I work in my garden in the inland hills of Connecticut. The memoir I'm deep into depends on vividly remembering. My hours uprooting masses of vibrant weeds these June days have a way of pulling up uninvited memories, rich and powerful messages from the past, the very ones that invigorate my writing.  Read More 
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Gardening: A Way to Return to Words

At the nearby annual spring sale of native flora of the Northwest (Connecticut) Conservation District, I noticed that the master gardeners running the sale looked as if they were thriving as much as the hundreds of lustrous perennials. The greenery was verdant and gorgeous, the offerings were incredibly tempting, but I stuck to my list with only a few lapses.

The white-haired woman who helped me was a gardener of few words but deep feeling. I got the distinct impression that most of her hours were spent wordlessly in the presents of plants because her face had the kind of beatific expression I have only seen in paintings of saints.

It made me remember that human beings are possessed of an innate "biophilia," a need for being in the world of nature that, if unfulfilled, can lead to a sense of sorrow, an inexplicable unhappiness often blamed on something else, writes Robert Pogue Harrison in his fascinating book, Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition.

On difficult writing or news days, all I have to do is get myself out the door and into my world of greenery behind the house and begin pulling, clipping, and watering. In minutes I feel better, buoyant and in balance again, and ready to return to working with words in the other world.  Read More 
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Writing and Gardening: They Go Together

My shadow while photographing the crocuses
Now that spring is here again, I'm reminded of the reciprocal relationship between writing and gardening, and I hope that getting out in the garden will give me more inspiration for my memoir!

I wrote this about words and gardens in my gardening memoir, Four Tenths of an Acre: Reflections on a Gardening Life:

"Waiting is important both in the garden and while writing: a gardener waits for a border to bloom, the way a writer waits for memories or images or insights to come to mind. I remember the many times I had patted wet soil around a green spring, waited a few days for it to put forth leaflets, and then watched it double and triple in size within weeks. It made me understand that the power of photosynthesis was like the probability that the psyche's creative energy will provide ideas while writing."

For more of what I have to say about gardening, and about Four Tenths of an Acre, view and listen to this video.

 
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