Plant Dreaming Deep by May Sarton

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When I was a young girl I spent Saturday mornings wandering the aisles of Powell’s Books in downtown Portland with my father Frank. Since my parents were very protective of their only daughter—and I was a good Catholic school girl—let’s just say this activity persisted for many years.

One Saturday I happened upon a book with a title that really spoke to me. It was Journal of a Solitude and its author was the poet and memoirist May Sarton. At that time I was journaling a great deal, and of course I considered myself to be a solitude, so it seemed like a match made in heaven. I purchased it, read it, and I can say with certainty that it change my life by showing me more of who I was and who I could be. To this day, I still list it as being one of the most formative books of my early creative literary life. Considering how many books I’ve consumed over the years, this is quite a feat.

Imagine my surprise when just months ago I was reading some theoretical piece about garden literature and May Sarton’s name popped up. Almost immediately I put on my walking shoes for the 4-mile roundtrip walk to the Powell’s store on Hawthorne. It was there that I purchased this now precious book Plant Dreaming Deep.

It is a garden memoir of a place in time, a person and her life, and the town where she has come to live. As a poet, she writes patches that are striking and true. Readers at first do not know how to make sense of how the text works and fits together. These are the best books for my mind at least where there is a puzzle. We work to patch together the meaning of something so intimate, the thoughts and experiences of a stranger, and best of all, yes, there is a garden and many thoughts about what plants mean to her. More than anything, she bridges the divide that bothers me most about the majority of garden writing. She makes it personal. She is not hiding the fact that her ideas are opinions and her tastes are based on feelings and memories. She is an artist and she makes herself vulnerable. Gardening and garden design is not formulaic and it is not mimicry. I believe she would say that we have little control over our gardens at all and that for the time we have them, we should feel them at every available moment. They are gifts to us. At the garden’s heart, like all great things, we will always find the subjects of life, death and change. It is for this reason we’ve spent so many years reflecting in gardens. It’s just what humans do.

For Sarton—and for many of us gardeners like her—it’s our heart and our minds we find when we garden. It is our spirit we grow and truly our souls we nourish as we tend to the soil. Not all gardeners fall into this group though, but if you do, and you’re like me, I really recommend the work of Sarton.

Vita Sackville-West on the Humble or Sensitive Plant

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Last night I couldn’t sleep so I grabbed a book from the bedside bookcase. I’ve been reading Sackville-West’s In Your Garden Again off and on for the past few weeks and it has all kinds of things I always mean to mention here but, by the time I’ve finally fallen asleep and come to in the morning—I’ve totally forgotten whatever it was I was thinking about sharing!

The sections of the book are divided into the twelve months of the year and are filled with articles she contributed to Sunday editions of The Observer between February 18, 1951 to March 8, 1953.

When I read this last night I knew I had to share this on my blog. As a foster parent who works in the garden with kids, this cracked me up and I hope you enjoy it too:

February 17, 1952
       Amongst other seeds for spring sowing I order a sixpenny packet of Mimosa pudica, the Humble Plant…. So humble is the Humble Plant, so bashful, that a mere touch of the finger or a puff of breath blown across it will cause it to collapse instantly into a woebegone heap…. One grows it purely for the purpose of amusing the children. The normal child, if not an insufferable prig, thoroughly enjoys being unkind to something; so here is a harmless outlet for this instinct in the human young. Shrieks of delight are evoked, enhanced by the sadistic pleasure of doing it over and over again. ‘Let’s go back and see if it has sat up yet.’ It probably has, for it seems to be endowed with endless patience under such mischievous persecution.

Vita Sackville-West,  In Your Garden Again
Vita Sackville-West, by William Strang