The first week of spring. Probably the most anticipated time for the gardener and I was forced to spend it here. I couldn’t avoid it anymore, that impacted wisdom tooth had to come out. I refused to be awake for it after hearing many horror stories, so my recovery time was a bit longer.
The truth is part of me was looking forward to the down time. I would be forced to sit still, which would allow me to do my next favorite thing…read. Well that was the plan. The anesthesia and pain medication left me comatose for 2 days. By the third day I was feeling minimal discomfort and refused to take anything else, so I could get back to my planned literary vacation.
The picture you see is in my bedroom. I have several reading “nooks” all over the house, but this one is pretty special. This chair was my paternal grandfather’s. It’s a replica of the John F. Kennedy Rocking Chair. My grandfather won it while working at the military hospital in Panama City. He eventually gave it to my father. My father passed away many years ago, so my mother thought I should have it.
I always said that when I finally finish college I will make more time for reading. Then I started my business Darlene’s Garden. It sometimes takes me a few months to finish a book, as was the case with the book I just finished…”My Friend the Garden” by Fernand Lequenne.
I have a very unconventional taste in books. Most of the authors I read no one has ever heard of them. I tend to find them in the oddest places. I especially love it when I find that rare genre, a memoir written by a person not connected to the horticulture world, but feels compelled to write about his or her garden. No matter how old the book is the subject matter is universal. Finding beauty in the garden is timeless.
This book is exactly that genre. I had never heard of it before. It was given to me as a gift from my one of my client’s Vicki. I make it my job to learn about my client’s personalities, tastes, and style to help better create a garden that is the essence of them. I never expected that my client’s would understand me or feel the need to give me gifts since working with them is literally gift enough. To my complete surprise they do understand me and have given me some very dear gifts. Apparently I don’t just do business, it’s personal. I prefer it that way anyway.
This little book Vicki found at a church rummage sale and thought of me. It was published in 1941 and originally written in French. Whenever I read things that have been translated it seems to me that the writing is ever more eloquent. I tend to think this is because English is such choppy language to work with and has less natural flow.
Fernand grew up during World War I, which is when he worked in his first garden that was out of necessity to survive from starvation. Even with the drama of the war going on, he still experienced that ever present joy that can be found in tilling the soil.
My friendship with gardens dates from the First World War. At first it was a nebulous friendship. Little by little it has become deeper. Now, suddenly, I realize that my garden is the essence of my life. This I will always know: that no matter what happens, as long as I live in humbleness with my garden, my life will be beautiful and strong and sure of its direction.
These are the opening sentences of this memoir. I was sitting in my truck when I read this at a stoplight having just left Vicki’s house. I thought to myself, “Oh yes, this book most definitely speaks to me.”
Fernand’s garden is what feeds his whole family. This is not a garden filled with flowers, which is usually what I prefer to read about. I almost thought I may not like it because it was so much about vegetables, but his enthusiasm came off the page. Fernand, his wife Mathilde, his two sons Claude and Jacques live in the french countryside. When I visited France I preferred the country to the city…even Paris. Several times in the book he shares his annoyance at those city folk who thought his life pathetic and lacking. To him, his home, his family, and his garden were all he needed. It was like they existed on their very own planet needing nothing from anyone.
Sometimes he tells stories other times he is giving very specific advice about how to prune your grapevines. It goes back and forth. I believe he meant this book to be a helpful practical guide, but he also felt the need to tell what the garden gave him besides a harvest. There are times when I cringed at the mention of the chemicals he used against disease and bugs, but if the crops perished his family would too.
I would have really liked to have worked in my garden this past week, but instead Fernand invited me into his garden. I felt as if I was working beside him getting the soil ready for spring planting. Some day if I am unable to work in my garden no more, I imagine I will pick up this book again. You can almost smell the earth as you turn the page. I leave you with words from Fernand…
How can one cultivate the earth without believing in the mystery of God? It is proven by experience, and outside of the metaphysical: if you don’t have a little faith in something greater, more divinely beautiful than yourself, you will never really love your garden; you will never understand certain labors of love; you will never have good harvests; that is all.