I don’t know exactly how I began to garden. It definitely wasn’t part of my childhood. I grew up in Flushing, Queens; the largest plot of green was city-owned Kissena Park. Besides, gardening always seemed like a rich, older lady pursuit, a pastime for people who ooh and ah over blue hydrangeas or roses. Definitely not me.
But I’ve lived in Virginia for 20 years now, a state that brims with trees and flowers of every kind. Every season in Virginia is a feast for the eyes. It’s one of the things I have loved most about it here. Whenever I fly home after book travel, I feel so comforted when we circle all those acres of trees beneath me. It lets me know I’m home.
I’ve come to understand that Richmond is a city that prides itself on its gardening chops. It boasts an award-winning botanical garden, for one thing. And every spring, like a lot of other places, fancy homes open their doors so that the rest of us can ooh and ah at their beautiful plantings. That’s to say nothing of the everyday beautiful yards you can see on a daily walk with your dog.
My house isn’t one of those fancy spots, I’m sad to say. I don’t have a grand house, for starters. But that hasn’t kept me from getting out there and trying my hand at nature. Over the years, I have somehow warmed to digging in the dirt – snakes notwithstanding – and what I’ve found is that I am a contemplative gardener. I’ve learned by doing, by succeeding and failing. That’s pretty much how I’ve handled my growth as a writer, too.
The process of making something artful – whether in words or in nature – is always
a lot harder than I believe it will be. Somehow, I’m always surprised by that fact. Both take vision, time, and patience. That’s the beauty of the journey for both those pursuits. Maybe that’s why when I’m stuck the hardest in a book project, I go outside to sweat and yank weeds, or simply to marvel at the “volunteers,” that have migrated to other parts of the yard on their own, surprising me with where they have decided to take root on their own.
Here’s the thing: Rushing a garden or a book is a bad idea. You have to plant things with your grandest intentions for beauty, and then you have to let those baby plants mature at their pace into what they’re meant to be. What’s vital is that you keep at it, that you do your part to feed them and help them grow.
I’m writing this when the mercury is past 90 degrees in Virginia which means it’s no time for planting anything at all in the yard. Water alone will do.
But as it happens, it IS time to head to Hamline University for summer residency. I can’t come to my MFA students with a vision for their garden. Only they can do that. But I can come with seeds from my own toolbox to share. I can offer them a set of hands to help weed what’s choking their dream. And most of all, I can offer to walk quietly alongside them and look with wonder at what can spring beneath our feet, a miracle every time.
I’ll be back at the end of the month. Until then…
if you would like more information on a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Hamline University, check here.