Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Gardening and Writing

It's looking like the best year ever for lupines in my garden; don't ask me why. They are a persnickety plant for sure: resisting transplanting but then growing in wild abundance in the most unlikely, inhospitable soil. Who can predict a lupine's mood? Or why it prefers roadside, salt-soaked dirt, instead of the rich compost I bestow on it?

I know you can find lupines in plenty of places outside of Maine ... I've seen riotous fields of lupines in Iceland, and gorgeous specimens in my cousin's garden in Ireland ... but ever since I read Barbara Cooney's Miss Rumphius to my children I think of them as a uniquely Maine flower. I know it's not fair to claim them, but, there you have it.

I love this time in the garden. Blue and purple predominate; the colors are still cool. The fire and heat of red bee balm, golden coreopsis and yellow daylilies is for July, when summer is ripe.

I love gardening as much as I love writing stories, and for me the process is similar. It's about completing the big picture one small step and one mundane task at a time. Head bent, hands dirty, back sore, you yank one weed then another and then another ... and when you come up for air, and step back it's ... lovely. That's how I craft a paragraph. Scratching, slow going, dead-heading and picking out the bad stuff, until I can step back, read it out loud and ... yes. It sings.

This takes a long time. And I can't let myself think about that, because in spite of my chosen avocation and beloved hobby I'm a fairly impatient person. Writing and gardening is not for people in a hurry. There's a reason why a garden is filled with slugs and snails.

Of course, in all fairness, there are also some pretty zippy creatures. Butterflies. Bees. And I've been spotting quite a few hummingbirds in this patch of Soloman's Seal. I thought they were drawn predominately to red, but the nectar in these bell-shaped buds must be pretty sweet.

I'm far from alone in drawing this comparison between gardening and writing. I know it's "been done," and done better than me, but that's not stopping me these days. I wouldn't write a word or plant a single flower if I worried about who's doing it better. I'm at the stage where all I can do is yield to my own story and admire what others create, no worry allowed.

If you're also looking to admire: a friend recently gave me The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden by Stanley Kunitz. It's absolutely lovely.

Much of my garden is in shade, and I've let Sweet Woodruff carpet the edges and creep beneath the rhododendrons. Hostas, ajuga, and a few random lily of the valley mix in. I like the intentional wildness of this patch. Stanley Kunitz writes:

"Almost anything you do in the garden, for example, weeding, is an effort to create some sort of order out of nature's tendency to run wild. ... The danger is that you can so tame your garden that it becomes a thing. It becomes landscaping.

"In a poem, the danger is obvious; there is natural idiom and then there is domesticated language. ... Once the poem starts flowing, the poet must not try to dictate every syllable."

I'm not sure how that translates to writing fiction, but I'm inspired to try.

1 comment:

  1. I love lupines too even though my son gives me a hard time for planting invasive species. We tried growing them from a seed (you soak them first) and failed last year. Now I’ve bought two to plant from the nursery. I believe our missing ingredient is full sun. I think of Maine too when I see lupines, especially the “blue” ones. Early this year! Yours are gorgeous. Interesting quotation. I like my garden and my writing wild.