Digging Deep

Narcissus, bookshelf

Taking this pic, I re-visited my long-ago college lit books on the bottom shelf: The Complete Pelican Shakespeare, The Norton Anthology of English Literature I and II, Victorian Poetry and Poetics, The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, Critical Theory Since Plato (oh, dear.) With many notes in the margins. Odd one out, a scriptwriting handbook. The “soil” of my literary leanings.

 

“I do believe that there’s something exquisitely powerful about taking something in nature and molding it with your own two hands. From the moment you dig up that first clump, you’re empowered because you immediately enter into collaboration with nature, and who better to be in collaboration with than the greatest force on earth?” Fran Sorin, Digging Deep

 

I have a delightful pairing to begin the new year: Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, the 10th anniversary edition by Fran Sorin; and Gardens of Use and Delight: Uniting the Practical and Beautiful in an Integrated Landscape, by Jigs and Jo Ann Gardnerpublished in 2002.

Digging Deep book coverYou don’t have to be a gardener to enjoy Fran’s book, though if you are, all the better. Fran says, “My  mission is to show new and experienced gardeners alike how they can use their gardens – be they rolling, manicured lawns or tiny, blank plots of land – as tools for their creative awakening. I believe from the depths of my heart that gardening can be one of the most profound ways to unearth the creative spirit buried within every one of us. Once you unleash this creative energy, you’ll be amazed at what happens in all areas of your life. You’ll begin to see how living creatively opens up new vistas in your imagination and new windows of opportunity in your life.”

I’m a new gardener, and gardening has become for me a pleasurable, relaxing complement to writing, perfect for getting my body moving outdoors in nature. As I write about growing up in a family flower shop, sowing and tending and reaping resurrect the fragrance of fresh blooms and damp soil, and many other sensory pleasures, from my childhood.

When I ran across Fran’s book online, I was intrigued with her melding of gardening and creativity. The first edition of Digging Deep was immensely popular, hence the 10th anniversary edition in 2014. I’m glad to have discovered it this time around. In addition to being a garden expert and deep ecologist, Fran is an ordained interfaith minister and a soul tending coach. I point this out because the deceptively simple Digging Deep is a profound and spiritual book that is part memoir, as Fran draws upon her own rich life experiences to tell the story of how she arrived at the wisdom she shares here.

I’ve found that to nurture a creative practice (mine is writing), it is good to have other creative outlets just for pleasure, quite different from your primary practice. These “low-stakes” pastimes give your mind and body a break from routine and stimulate your imagination by allowing you to play and experiment. This spirit of play permeates Fran’s book. Her chapters take you sequentially through the cyclical nature of gardening, and creativity: Imagining: The Spark of Creativity. Envisioning: Giving Shape to Your Dreams. Planning: Laying Down the Bones. Planting: Taking Action. Tending: The Act of Nurturing. Enjoying: Reaping What You Have Sown. Completing: Cycling Through the Season.

Here is a favorite passage from a section called “Appreciating”: “Savoring your garden brings more than just sensory pleasure, though – it fills your creative well. In the moments that you experience the reverie of simply being there without working or planning or doing anything other than just drinking it in, you can experience a heightened awareness that elevates your consciousness. Any expression of art, be it a Rembrandt or your own garden, reflects the best of humankind, and tapping into this wonder expands your creative capacity so you may in turn create even more art – more awareness, more inspiration, more aliveness. The cycle feeds itself, but only if you stop to smell those literal and proverbial roses.” (boldface is mine)

Fran includes some excellent gardening guidance and tips, but her book is not a gardening manual. Rather, her aim is impart a deeper wisdom, a kind of spiritual instruction about connection to soil and nature, to foster creative awakening.

Gardens of Use and Delight book coverJigs and Jo Ann Gardner’s Gardens of Use and Delight is about a remarkable couple who for thirty years taught themselves how to live off the land on a farm on remote, hardscrabble Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. (They now live on a smaller farm in upstate New York.) I wanted to pair it with Digging Deep because, although Jigs and Jo Ann are immensely practical people, they are deeply connected to their land and passionate about homesteading, which they portray as at once the functional task of reawakening fertility and abundance in the landscape and making it beautiful as well. The subtitle is Uniting the Practical and the Beautiful in an Integrated Landscape, and that is exactly what Jigs and Jo Ann did on their isolated farm, while also raising four children (and a few foster children for good measure.)

Gardens of Use and Delight, like Digging Deep, is part memoir. More of a how-to book than Fran’s, Gardens, for me, stands out because of Jigs and Jo Ann’s instinctively creative approach to seamlessly blending beauty and fertility as they rejuvenate and work their land. I will never rehabilitate an entire farm as they did, but in Jigs and Jo Ann’s book I find an approach to making my much smaller landscape both productive and beautiful. Jigs and Jo Ann remind me of Helen and Scott Nearing and their classic and influential The Good Life, although Helen and Scott were not concerned with aesthetics as are Jigs and Jo Ann. The Gardners view their land as an artist does a blank canvas, to be molded and planted with flowers, herbs, vegetables, fruits, shrubs, and trees.

You’ll find some recipes and homemade craft instructions, too, such as pressed flower cards, candied petals, herb salt, rose petal jelly, and skin freshener. Elayne Sears’ watercolor illustrations of the landscape, fruits, vegetables, flowers, and Jo Ann’s rustic farm kitchen and pantry are delightful – I’d love to have prints of them to hang in my kitchen.

I have read other titles by Jo Ann Gardner and hope to collect everything written by this talented, tenacious homesteading and gardening virtuoso.

A very vintage photo of Cape Breton Island, from my honeymoon. Although I don't believe they were on the coast, Jigs and Jo Ann Snyder must have encountered land much like this when began to reclaim an old Nova Scotia farm.

A very vintage photo of Cape Breton Island, from my honeymoon. Although I don’t believe they were on the coast, Jigs and Jo Ann Gardner must have encountered land much like this when they began to reclaim an old Nova Scotia farm.

 

Slow Flowers Challenge

I wanted to also tell you about Debra Prinzing’s Slow Flower Challenge for 2015, which you can join at any time. Every day, once a week, once a month, or once a season, you can design and make a floral arrangement using slow flowers. If you don’t know what slow flowers are, click on the above link, or read my post about Debra’s book, Slow Flowers. (St. Lynn’s Press)

Raised beds covered with snow

Our blank slate

 

 Next up

More WW II fiction, a travel-to-the-ends-of-the-earth memoir, a wolf, Scandinavian literature, Little Golden Books, a favorite author visits Rome. Etc. Etc.

 

Windowsill Art

“For me, windowsill arranging is almost a spiritual practice. When I am looking for materials to display and placing them on the windowsill, I feel more like a poet placing words in a haiku than a floral designer placing stems in a vase. I love the limited space, the double connection to the outdoors (through the window and my materials), and the structure that repeating the same activity over and over provides.”   Nancy Ross Hugo, Windowsill Art

Vase of borage blossoms on windowsill

I was inspired by Nancy Ross Hugo’s delightful new book, Windowsill Art, to create this for “In a Vase on Monday,” the blog series by Rambling in the Garden. I used borage and pachysandra. The borage blossoms had flopped over from heavy rain the night before, so I decided to snip them off and enjoy them indoors.

 

I wrote about flowers and flower-themed books this past summer to commemorate the Ohio floral shop I grew up in (we just sold the building where my parents had the business for some fifty years) and to chronicle a renewed desire to have more flowers in my life. When St. Lynn’s Press asked me to review their new book, Windowsill Art, by Nancy Ross Hugo, I was thrilled. There is much, much more to this small, hand-sized book than meets the eye.

Windowsill Art book coverWindowsill Art is, first of all, about discovery: using seasonal blossoms and other easily accessible gifts of nature all around us – seedpods, cones, leaves, twigs, foliage, fruits, and vegetables – to make simple, striking designs we can display in the modest spaces of our windowsills.

Secondly, it is windowsill art as artist’s practice. Hugo writes, “Windowsill arranging can be to floral design what pen and ink drawing is to oil painting: a way to strip the art form to its basics and distill the essence of it.”

Nancy compares her windowsill practice to the work of a vegan cookbook author she once heard speak. The cookbook author focused exclusively on vegan cooking even though she was not a vegan.  “She limited her universe in order to investigate a small part of it more deeply.” The simple art of windowsill arranging, Hugo writes, can be “a path back to….innocence and [the] beginner’s eye….And it can help focus a lifetime of practice and observation.”

The author is a naturalist and floral designer who, for three years, created floral windowsill art every day and posted photographs of it on her blog, Windowsill Arranging: Creating Nature on the Windowsill.  She learned that her work greatly increased her readers’ sense of artistic freedom: techniques and ideas they hadn’t thought of before opened up new creative paths and possibilities.

Hugo offers instruction in how to find plant material and choose containers; ways to explore the process, including combining and shuffling materials and letting arrangements evolve; and experimenting with styles and techniques. She is suggestive and encouraging; there are no hard and fast rules. Nancy wants you to feel artistically uninhibited, free to try new things. Windowsill Art is generously photographed, featuring a gallery of Nancy’s arrangements through all four seasons.

You’ll want to keep Windowsill Art close to your work area for inspiration.

windowsillart1

April’s Lenten rose blossoms on the left, set against Japanese kerria blooming outdoors; daffodils and violas on the right. Windowsill Art features nature on the window ledge for every month and season. By Nancy Ross Hugo.

 

Windowsill Art has inspired me to try some arrangements myself. I’ve noticed bits and pieces from nature in our yard I would have overlooked for use in an arrangement. We have a great deal of moss because of shade from our huge hemlock and beech trees, so I hope to use moss in my next arrangement.

I’m expanding my collection of vases and containers, too. At a local dairy, I bought large and small glass bottles of milk and cream; the empty bottles are terrific vases. I recently put aside a small jug that was filled with maple syrup, as well as an empty balsamic vinegar decanter.

 

Leaves and foliage in vases on windowsill

By Nancy Ross Hugo

 

If you happen to participate in Rambling in the Garden’s “In a Vase on Monday” meme, consider trying windowsill art for your next creation.

 

Blue bottles, white flowers

Winter: paperwhite narcissus bulbs, mustard and moneyplant leaves, by Nancy Ross Hugo

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