The Garden

“A garden is evidence of faith. It links us with all the misty figures of the past who also planted and were nourished by the fruits of their planting.”
Gladys Taber

I have just come in from the garden, where I have managed to spend a few hours in the last 10 days — not enough hours, but some, nonetheless. For my grandmother, I planted evening-scented stocks (lasting beauty in Kate Greenaway’s The Victorian Language of Flowers). Their scent takes me back to Nannie’s garden long ago, where we talked endlessly while I watered her flowers and crunched carrots I’d rinsed under the hose.

I remember my godmother in the prairie crocuses (cheerfulness). Their vivid purple takes me back to Fort Macleod, and summers spent weeding her garden, stuffing myself with raspberries, then spending long afternoons with friends exploring willow-hidden creeks and brown coulees.

And as I planted the heliotrope today, I remembered why each year it has a place in one of my pots. There is a line in Act I of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town where Julia Gibbs says to her husband, “Come out and smell the heliotrope in the moonlight.” Each time I smell it, I remember the girl who played Julia, and the other members of that long-ago production I directed.

Vividly I recall Jayne’s intensity as she delivered Emily’s goodbye speech.Part of why I love this play is that Wilder also thought gardens were important. As she leaves the world, Emily says,
Good-by, Good-by, world. Good-by, Grover’s Corners …Mama and Papa. Good-by to clocks ticking…and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths…and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you . . .. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?
Thornton Wilder, Our Town, Act III

An Arabian proverb says, “A book is a garden carried in the pocket.” My garden links me not only to people I love, but to much-loved books as well. In addition to heliotrope (devotion and faithfulness), I have rosemary for remembrance (Shakespeare’s Ophelia in Hamlet, IV, 5) and savoury and thyme for Frances Hodgson Burnett’s book The Secret Garden. Each year I plant pansies — love-in-idleness for Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In the scent and colour of my garden lies much of my history.

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”
Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman statesman, scholar, orator

My library is my garden at school. Like gardens, libraries nourish and delight. They nurture budding intellects, and link us to people and events in our present and in our past. And, like gardens, libraries need constant care and replenishment.

It is the end of the year, and we’re preparing the library for inventory, and for a major renovation next year. At the moment this means weeding. I like to weed. It means spending hands-on time in places I love to be. I take pleasure in the rewards of previous years’ hard work. I get to know again each nook and cranny, each hidden or forgotten treasure. Weeding requires I think about every resource we have. Has it outlived its usefulness? Is it damaged beyond repair? Taking space needed for more fruitful things?

“More things grow in the garden than the gardener sows.”
Spanish Proverb

A friend cultivates a semi-wild area in her yard. Every time she digs out a weed, she replaces it with a plant she wants. This is, of course, what we librarians do as a matter of course, but it’s a simple and effective philosophy of life that I want to apply to my teaching and my life.

Over the coming summer I’ll be thinking about how to do that as I tend my other garden. My next project is to plant something for Ralph Waldo Emerson, who believed
To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a little better; whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is the meaning of success.