Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Gardens and the human condition

Posted by: Heidi

June 18th, 2011 >> Books

I just finished reading another insightful and thought-provoking book, Gardens – An Essay on the Human Condition, by Robert Pogue Harrison. Drawing from literary, religious and scholarly sources, Harrison examines the human quest for happiness through centuries of gardens and gardeners, both real and fictional, and examines how gardens are connected with human thinking about mortality, creativity and what gives life meaning. 

While discussing how gardens have provided education, creative expression and sanctuary throughout time Harrison refers to the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus who was among those who taught by means of the garden. He used the garden to cultivate patience in his followers, “a serene acceptance of both what is given and what is withheld by life in the present.” 

I particularly enjoyed Harrison’s discussion of the “lost art of seeing” and how gardens can help us to regain it. He comments that “there exists in our era a tragic discrepancy between the staggering richness of the visible world and the extreme poverty of our capacity to perceive it.” Almost a century ago Rainer Maria Rilke hypothesized that it was the earth’s destiny to become invisible and that the process of transmutation of the visible to the invisible had begun to take place. Gardens can help us to rescue the world’s visibility and relearn the art of seeing.

In his novella Candide, the philosopher Voltaire famously urged us to “cultivate our garden” and Harrison reminds us of the nature of that responsibility and its enduring importance to humanity. Voltaire’s use of the  pronomial adjective “our” points to the world we share in common. Harrison explains that Voltaire’s view of the human condition was that “where history unleashes its destructive and annihilating forces, we must, if we are to preserve our sanity, to say nothing of our humanity, work against and in spite of them. We must seek out healing or redemptive forces and allow them to grow in us.” This is what it means to tend and cultivate our gardens.

If history consists of the endless conflict between the forces of destruction and the forces of cultivation then this book weighs in on the side of the latter. In so doing it strives to participate in the gardener’s vocation of care.

This book can be purchased in Canada here:
Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition

or in the US here:
Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition


Cultivating wisdom in the garden

Posted by: Heidi

March 1st, 2011 >> Books


As I wait for the weather to be more conducive to spending time in the garden, I’ve been reading about gardens instead. I just finished a wonderful new book, “Gardening – Philosophy for Everyone: Cultivating Wisdom”, edited by Dan O’Brien, a collection of essays that cover a variety of topics from gardening history and architecture to the role of gardens and gardening in the work of philosophers both ancient (Plato and Epicurus) and modern (David Hume). This book explores the question of why gardens mean so much to so many people and presents some answers to why gardens have been so important in human civilization throughout the ages. The contribution of gardening to “the good life” is discussed along with many other kinds of meanings that gardens may have, from their representation of nature to their spiritual significance.

My favourite essay in this collection is “Gardens, Music and Time” by Ismay Barwell and John Powell. In it they argue that gardens are as much concerned with process and time as they are with place. Since Emmanuel Kant first classified landscape gardening as a sub-category of painting, gardening has been seen as a form of visual art. However, unlike paintings, gardens are not static. Just like music, gardens incorporate the fourth dimension, time. Music makes the passage of time audible and gardens make the passage of time visible. Gardening, painting and music, my three favourite things!

This insightful and contemplative book about gardening can be purchased here in Canada:

Gardening – Philosophy for Everyone: Cultivating Wisdom

or here in the USA:

Gardening: Philosophy for Everyone- Cultivating Wisdom

“In gardens we are both spectators and participants.”
~ Ismay Barwell and John Powell

There is a Season

Posted by: Heidi

June 22nd, 2010 >> Books

Thinking about the cycle of life in the garden reminded me about Patrick Lane’s book, “There is a Season”, which I first read several years ago and have now started reading again. This book is a beautifully descriptive memoir of both Lane’s difficult life and the life of his garden. Lane sees his garden’s life as intertwined with his own and tending to it brings him solace and healing. He writes about creating a refuge in his garden, “a garden is a real place imagined and, with time and care, an imagined place made real.”

Recovering from years of addiction, Lane came out of rehab and spent a year in his garden on Vancouver Island observing the seasonal changes and writing about the happenings in his garden, his own activities as well as those of the many other garden inhabitants. He writes evocative descriptions of the animals, birds, insects, and plants in his garden, and of the relationship he has to them all. Lane observes that “a garden is a place of harmony, of balance and it is made from living things.”

I love Lane’s lyrical writing style and poetic descriptions of the smallest details in his garden’s life. His book meanders through a year in his garden, taking many little side trips to explore, often painful, memories from his past and then returns again to the peace and serenity of his garden sanctuary. He recognizes that all of his past experiences have brought him to the place that he is now. According to Lane, “we are what resembles us, in the garden as in our lives.”

This wonderful little book can be purchased in Canada here:

There Is A Season: A Memoir

or in the US here:

There Is A Season: A Memoir