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You plant the seed, you nurture it, it nurtures you.
–Susan Heeger, “Homegrown,” from The Roots of My Obsession


The Roots of My Obsession: Thirty Great Gardeners Reveal Why They Garden, edited by Thomas C. Cooper
(Timber Press, 2012)

By Jennifer Silver, JMMDS

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the publication of The Roots of My Obsession: Thirty Great Gardeners Reveal Why They Garden since Julie was asked to contribute an essay. We just received an advance copy, and it is as wonderful as I’d hoped.

In addition to Julie’s contribution, tantalizingly titled “The Dirty-Minded Gardener” (you’ll just have to read it to find out!) there are essays from our most well-known gardeners and garden writers about how they came to spend so much of their time with their hands in the dirt.

In most cases, it’s simply because it makes them happy. Whether the garden looks magnificent or is ravaged by winds and insects, the act of gardening is itself tremendously rewarding. Helen Dillon writes, “At the risk of sounding smug and British, I enjoy…digging, lugging buckets of compost, sweeping paths, rooting out dandelions, clearing drains, sieving leafmould.”

Some contributors found an early role model who instilled a love of plants. Four-year-old Rosalind Creasy hunted cutworms around her father’s tomato plants. Richard G. Turner, Jr., learned about gardening from a knowledgeable neighbor. Others seemed born to it. Page Dickey wonders of herself and her sister, raised in the same environment, why did one become a gardener and the other not? “All the while she dreamed of velvet dresses and a life on the stage, while I collected tadpoles and lovingly polished the leaves of my philodendron…”

Stephen Orr and Panayoti Kelaidis both fess up to felonious (childhood) raids on neighbors’ gardens to procure plants. Amy Stewart, who can always make me laugh, draws a connection between gardening and the grooming instinct (the sweater-lint-picking impulse transferred to the surprisingly enjoyable task of raking thatch out of the lawn). Dan Hinkley scripts an imaginary courtroom drama in which he is cross-examined about his passion for plants and lack of aptitude for anything else.

Many writers cite the spiritual or meditative fulfillment that gardening brings. Several note that when they are gardening, they are fully alive to the present moment. Margaret Roach describes how when she is raking or weeding she is in a mindful trance, completely present. “As a Hindu leaves his shoes at the entrance to the temple, so I can temporarily cast off life’s grubbier aspects and float,” writes Anna Pavord.

Anne Raver and Ken Druse describe precious wild places now choked by invasives such as Japanese stilt grass and honeysuckle. Anne and Julie both mention Doug Tallamy’s work as a sustaining inspiration, and Doug himself contributed an essay, “The Web,” describing how he gardens primarily to feed and shelter the animals—especially birds and insects—he loves.

For the amateur gardener, there is comfort in reading about expert gardeners’ tribulations. How nice to hear Ken Druse say, “I think about a quarter of the perennials I’ve bought over the years turned out to be annuals.”

The book will be released on October 9 and is available for pre-order now.

On our Facebook page, we’re asking why YOU garden. Hop over and post a comment. One name will be drawn at random to win a copy of the book! The drawing will include all who have submitted a comment before midnight on September 28.



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