As a child, I dreaded my family’s annual trip to the plant nursery. Embarrassingly, I cannot tell you a single plant my parents purchased. My sister and I romped through the aisles of the greenhouses, hoping to trigger the sprinklers. Neither of us had a passion for gardening. I can’t speak for my sister, but I still don’t. Nevertheless, I’ve listened to two gardeners speak about their passions and philosophies in the past two weeks: Nancy Lawson, author of The Humane Gardener, and Marianne Willburn, who wrote Big Dreams, Small Garden. I pored over their books, replete with gorgeous pictures of very different gardens and their animal and human inhabitants. While I wasn’t inspired to take up a trowel, between their suggestions for dodging Maryland’s infamous gnats and peaceful coexistence with rabbits, I gained a new appreciation for a dedication to the dirt.
1. “Bitter Greens.” (Mindy Hung, The Toast, December 2014)
“When I was seven years old, my grandparents began a squatter’s garden over empty city land.” So begins Mindy Hung’s essay about bitter vegetables, the Japanese occupation of Taiwan, the unpredictability of cruel teenagers, and scarcity versus security.
2. “Arcadia.” (Emma Crichton Miller, Aeon, August 2013)
Psychoanalysts, artists, and poets have long drawn on imagery of nature. The garden, with its chaos cultivated and conquered, is lush with metaphor.
3. “Lessons From My Mother, the Grave Gardener.” (Anna Gragert, Catapult, May 2017)
Not even a childhood spent assisting her mother in tending to gravesides could prepare Anna Gragert for the inevitability of her loved ones’ deaths.
4. “Why Would Someone Steal the World’s Rarest Water Lily?” (Sam Knight, The Guardian, October 2014)
A fascinating, frustrating tale of PLANT CRIME: The tiniest water lily, Rwandan in origin, is taken from Kew Gardens in England, ostensibly in plain sight. But there are no cameras and no witnesses. What’s a conservatory to do? And what’s the end game of the wheelers and dealers on the black market for the world’s most endangered plants?
5. “The Neoliberal Green Space.” (Marisa Mandabach, Jacobin, July 2015)
The Turkish construction boom is eliminating the historical link between Muslim life and working-class gardens, over the protests of the people:
Istanbul’s bostans preserve an alternative model for urban gardening: one that provides a living for professional small farmers, who supply their communities with produce and have relative autonomy over the spaces they cultivate. That this livelihood is being destroyed right as gardens are becoming fetish objects in the urban imagination might seem ironic — but it is perfectly compatible with the rise of the neoliberal green space.