A couple of weeks ago, my friend and fellow garden writer Kylee Baumle recommended a book — The Backyard Parables by Margaret Roach — to me. When it comes to garden books, particularly those that are more memoir than reference, Kylee and I are cut of similar cloth; her recommendation carries a lot of weight.
A few hours after I ordered my copy from Amazon, Kylee posted a full review and giveaway on her blog, Our Little Acre. Her hearty recommendation to me was multiplied as she places The Backyard Parables at the top of her all-time favorite gardening books list. Coming from Kylee, an avid reader and book review editor for Horticulture magazine, this revelation only whet my appetite for a masterpiece found within the book.
So far, I’ve barely scratched the surface of my copy of The Backyard Parables, but I can already see why this book spoke to Kylee so deeply. There is an intimate soul of a gardener lain bare in Roach’s beautifully intertwined prose. It is not an easy read that can be browsed while surrounded by other distractions. I’ve found peace and inspiration within its initial pages, best consumed over coffee in the early quiet of a still house.
The first chapter transports us to Roach’s winter garden, sharing a lusting for spring so familiar to northern gardeners — a feeling that has consumed my spirit as winter has tightened its chilly grip on my own garden. Roach describes the dormant weeds as “sentries on stakeouts so they can recapture territory for each of the invader species the minute conditions are deemed favorable.” She could very well be describing my gardening soul at the moment. The anticipation is tempered by Roach: “That will be no time soon; we all have months to go, whatever our intentions.”
This gentle and realistic observation, a few words on a page, reminds me that in my bated anticipation, I am missing the offering of the present.
Dried, airy Miscanthus blooms, remnants of last year’s garden, weave themselves around the pendant potential of witch hazel buds. With ice expected in the coming days, this sun-glistened marriage is fleeting.
A sturdy crabapple branch reveals sepia tones beneath its lichen-colonized, flaking grey bark. In a few short months, fragrant white blooms abuzz with pollinators and a new covering of green foliage will render the bark ignored.
Dried sedum flowers take on russet hues in the morning sun, an aesthetic foil to the fading purple fruit of their Beautyberry neighbor. If not for the texture it lends the garden in winter, sedum may not have a place in my garden.
Roach laments the “violent heaving” that winter brings to Heuchera. Yes, most Heuchera can be like a school child who won’t remain seated, but when our ground lays bare of snow, they provide a welcome splash of color.
In these few weeks of winter, I can forget the thousands of silver maple seedlings that I pluck from the garden as I look up at an equal number of mahogany buds lining smooth, silver branches against a crystal clear sky. This tree belongs to our friends and neighbors next door, but we gardeners like to share.
The dormant season allows us to patiently hone our senses and find detail where before only a blur lived. A light dusting of snow now highlights the subtle topography of a flagstone, little more than an nondescript guide and invitation to enter in the past.
The gardener in me wants to devour The Garden Parables, but I think I will learn from Roach’s entreaty to be patient. She says, “We wait, all of us–though some more quietly and uncomplainingly than others.”
I will wait for my moments of early-morning quiet to hear the message of The Garden Parables. In the meantime, I will embrace the offering of the present.