These days the image of the garden keeps popping up around me. First there is the Tapestry Program that I listen to on Sunday afternoons. This one examines the connection between the garden and spirituality. “Stephen Scharper, an assistant professor of religious ethics and environmental studies at the University of Toronto, says the urge to get back to the garden is primal in human beings; at its root is a longing to choose life.”
Then I hear Joni Mitchel’s Woodstock song. We are star-dust, we are golden and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden
A friend tells me I ought to read Candide. It ends by Candide saying, “we must cultivate our garden.”
My garden is my writing. It is not a large garden by any means. Each day I plant seedlings, some will grow and some won’t. Some of these seedlings will be nourishment for heartier stories. To watch a plant come forth from one seed is truly a miracle. A rough first draft and then a second and a third and suddenly “the spirit of life begins to stir within, and the individuality of the plant to assert itself.” (An Island Garden by Celia Thaxter 1835-1894).
I must not forget to plant my bulbs in the fall if I wish to have them flower in the spring. Creative non-fiction essays which I enter into competitions in September; its result known to me only in March.
Along the borders are my rose bushes that are a constant there. These are the books I have had the good fortune to have published.
And then there is the watering. Oh, I must not forget the watering through the readings of other writers, writings about the craft, and the listening to writers talk about their art. But also I must use water as part of its landscape. I like a garden with water lilies for these remind me of gems. You know the kind: That which we call a rose
by any other name would smell as sweet. (Romeo and Juliet)
As writers, we need fertilizers to inspire us but we must also be careful for fertilizers also feed weeds. Am I saying too much? Is this the right time to say it? Is it the correct fertilizer for what I am writing?
In my own writing, the weeds have a tendency to come up often and so I must tend to them lest they overwhelm my garden and I can no longer see what is growing. A garden filled with weeds can easily lead to discouragement or to abandoning the whole thing altogether. It has been said that 85 percent of people who start to write a novel never finish it.
At first, the weeds may look innocent enough and may even be mistaken for something that will bloom. Don’t be fooled by weeds that look at you squarely in the face and say to you that other writers are so much more gifted than you; whatever made you think you could write; that your ideas are idiotic or that your command of the language is poor. Such weeds are a nuisance that spread easily.
These have to be pulled out as soon as possible so that the garden can show its true beauty. Each garden is different, for certain. A garden need not be large either for as clearly demonstrated through Harper Lee’s one and only novel, the brilliant and beautiful To Kill A Mockingbird.
A garden must also have some annuals in it. These are not permanent writing, but then is any piece of writing ever permanent for once a reader reads it has it not also changed in some way?
So the tending of the garden must be done daily I realize. If I am to have a half decent garden, one that I can show for others to enjoy as well, then I cannot be a gentlewoman gardener.
Right now my garden is still immature. There are plenty of stories which need pruning and I am reminded so often that writing is rewriting. The cutting of dead wood, the raking of dried leaves, the pinching and turning to make room for new growth.
And there is the trial and error. A character I have worked hard at may end up having to be totally removed for such a character does not belong in this part of my garden but may flourish somewhere else, where it will be happier. Sometimes it can be entire scenes that don’t belong in this season of my garden.
There are bird feeders to add and little pebbles to form a pathway around the bushes. These are the final touches, the details that show the care the writer has put into her art.
So what shall your garden look like? What shape do you want it to take? These are questions I am asking myself as I see my own garden unfold in front of me. And most important of all what kind of gardener do I want to be?
I leave you with the words of Diane Setterfield, the British crime writer and New York Times #1 bestseller :
“All my life and all my experience, the events that have befallen me, the people I have known, all my memories, my dreams, fantasies, everything I have ever read, all of that has been chucked onto a compost heap, where over time it has rotted down to a dark, rich, organic mulch. The process of cellular breakdown makes it unrecognizable. Other people call it imagination. I think of it as a compost heap. Every so often I take an idea, plant it in the compost, and wait. It feeds on the black stuff that is a life, takes its energy for its own. It germinates. Takes root. Produces shoots. And so on and so forth, until one fine day I have a story, or a novel.”