I hope you enjoy this first writing prompt. Future prompts will range from simple to complicated and silly to serious. Some will be straight ahead and others will be surprising and unexpected. Please join the newsletter if you’d like to be notified when prompts are posted to this site.
In interviews, I am often asked to relate my “Genesis” story. “How did you get started gardening?.” It seems like such a simple question. You’d think I’d have a great response in the back of my pocket by now, given that I have been called upon to answer it countless times. Instead, my response is always the same: sheer panic.
“Uh. Well. You see. It’s sort of a long story to tell. Ummmmmmmmmmm… It’s, uh, complicated.” Fumble, fumble, stammer.
It’s not that I don’t know my own story, it’s that it is not a story with a single, definable beginning. The way I see it, there are many things in life that are like this. Sometimes there is no singular act that sets you off on a path, but several acts and experiences — some conscious and others unconscious, that lead you to a destination that you may not have been able to foresee.
After the initial fumbling, my response to this simple/big question is often to begin with my first plant. I’m not certain that it is the beginning of this thing that I do (growing things), but it is an important experience that I can recall with clarity. I was only five at the time and growing a plant was not an activity that I had a hand in choosing. However, my memory of it is telling and a reminder that the urge to connect to the natural world in some way was always there, even if it took me a while to put conscious thought and action to it.
So this is where I thought we’d begin. At the beginning. But not really.
Note: You can skip my explanation and go straight to the Grow Write Guild page to find out more.
Tell More Stories.
Back in December I declared that this was my goal moving forward. The more I know about gardening and the more I write about it, the more I see that it is all about the stories. As a professional garden writer I am supposed to identify myself as an expert and make sure to position myself in that way in order to rise above the herd and increase my value. “Citizens of the World, I have all of your gardening answers!” But the reality is that while I have learned a lot, there is far, far more that I do not know. Infinitely more. And other things that I forget. This is not a bad thing. It keeps me humble. It’s also a challenge to learn and a guarantee that I will never be bored — that I can carry this obsession with plants through the whole of my life and it will always be as vivid, dynamic, and alive as it is right now. Maybe even more-so.
Which leads me back to Tell More Stories. Read more…
Throughout my gardening life there have been many plants that I tried to grow with middling success, until I observed them growing in the wild. Sarracenia (pitcher plants), venus fly trap (Dioneae muscipula), episcia, and ginger are just a few that come to mind. Seeing them in their natural habitat helped me understand something about the soil, light, moisture, or the communities they grow in that allowed me to better approximate their needs at home in my own garden and pots.
In June 2011 I travelled to Denver, Colorado to speak at the Denver Botanic Gardens. One of many things I was excited to see in the area were cold hardy cactus growing in the wild. I’ve been growing Opuntia humifusa and other hardy cacti in pots for years and had only recently began to have success with them in the ground. But I still felt that there was something that I was missing.
A pretty typical cactus garden with lots of space between plants. Note that I took this photo on the roof of one of the buildings at Denver Botanic Gardens.
Dear Margaret: Those two words are how each “letter” in this new series will begin, whenever I write here to my friend Margaret Roach of A Way to Garden.
2013 is a banner year for me. In just under 5 months I will turn 40. Hello, overnight occurrences of strangely oversized chin hair, indeterminate body aches, and an unhealthy addiction to Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” Hello, mid-life crisis.
“So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young anymore.”
I recently watched the comedy “This is 40” and while I have no illusions that a Hollywood film will “get me” and portray a reality that I know, I walked away feeling somewhat fortunate (or was it superior?) in that while my 40th may be A LOT flabbier and is not heralded forward with a full-service catered tent party in an expensive and dully landscaped flush suburban backyard, a decade’s worth of therapy has prepared me so that it is (at least I think) a lot less CRAYZZEE.
Anyways, just last month, my Internet website, “celebrated” its 13th webiversary. It’s hard to believe that I’ve been writing here about gardening in some form for 13 years. Did you say recently that you’ve been writing about gardening for 25 years? I never expected to be doing this for such a long time, but then again, I didn’t start off with many expectations period, so its all a bit of a surprise. 13 years later and I have changed careers, written books I didn’t know were in me, and experienced a host of wonderful, frightening, and sometimes surreal things… all because I wanted to create a love letter to plants and meet likeminded people. Life is funny.
All photos in this post are credited to Avant Gardens.
As a gardener with particular tastes and interests that border on obsession, it’s always a treat to meet someone who shares the same enthusiasm and passions. I was introduced to Katherine Tracy and her nursery Avant Gardens (located in Dartmouth, Massachusetts) through Margaret, who found out about this off-the-beaten-track plant treasure trove by word-of-mouth through some of her gardening friends. “She’s one of us,” Margaret explained, meaning to say through verbal shorthand that she’s a bit plant crazy (the best kind of crazy) and with impeccable taste to boot (because, of course, being somewhat mad, we happen to believe our own tastes in plants are impeccable).
Collectors of unusual and interesting plants since the 1980s, owners Katherine and Chris Tracey sell all manner of colourful foliage and dependable perennials. Like many of the most interesting nurseries, their business got started by way of a personal passion that simply got out of hand. They began doing mail order in 1997, focussing on uncommon annuals, but gradually moved on to include some of the perennials, trees, and shrubs they personally grew as well.