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Cultivating Delight

Chapter One

I plan my garden as I wish I could plan my life, with islands of surprise, color, and scent. A seductive aspect of gardening is how many rituals it requires. Uncovering the garden in the spring, for example. Replacing a broken-down metal gate with a burly wooden one. Transplanting rhododendrons to a sunnier spot. Moving the holly bushes to the side of the garage, to hide them from the deer, who nonetheless find and eat them, prickles and all. (It may be like our affection for strong peppermints, hot mustards, spicy peppers -- maybe the prickles add a certain frisson to the deer's leafy diet.) By definition, the garden's errands can never be finished, and its time-keeping reminds us of an order older and one more complete than our own. For the worldwide regiment of gardeners, reveille sounds in spring, and from then on it's full parade march, pomp and circumstance, and ritualized tending until winter. But even then there's much to admire and learn about in the garden -- the hieroglyphics of animal tracks in the snow, for instance, or the graceful arc of rose canes -- and there are many strategies to plan.

Surely there is a new way to outwit the marauding deer and Japanese beetles? Gardeners understand the word pestilence as only medieval burghers did. Gardeners can be cultured and refined. They can be earthy, big-hearted folk who love to get their hands dirty as they dig in the sunshine. They may obsess about tidy worlds of miniature, perfectly blooming trees. They may develop a passion for jungle gardens reminiscent of Amazonia. They may specialize in making deserts bloom. They may adore the weedy mayhem of huge banks of wildflowers. They may create interflowing worlds of color and greenery, in which small meadows give way to a trellised rosebed; a moon garden with blossoms all silver or white; a water garden complete with small bridge and waterfall; a butterfly garden also visited by hummingbirds; a "flamboyant" garden filled only with red, yellow, and orange flowers; a hedge of pampas grasses whose tall plumes sway like metronomes.

Gardeners have unique preferences, which tend to reflect dramas in their personal lives but they all share a love of natural beauty and a passion to create order, however briefly, from chaos. The garden becomes a frame for their vision of life. Whether organic or high-tech, they share a dark secret, as well. Despite their sensitivity to beauty and respect for nature, they all resort to murder and mayhem with steel-willed cunning.

Nurturing, decisive, interfering, cajoling, gardeners are eternal optimists who trust the ways of nature and believe passionately in the idea of improvement. As the gnarled, twisted branches of apple trees have taught them, beauty can spring in the most unlikely places. Patience, hard work, and a clever plan usually lead to success: private worlds of color, scent, and astonishing beauty. Small wonder a gardener plans her garden as she wishes she could plan her life.

Cultivating Delight
by by Diane Ackerman

  • paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • ISBN-10: 0060505362
  • ISBN-13: 9780060505363