Tending One’s Garden

“The man who tends a garden is the man most directly in touch with God.”

~ Henry Miller


For those of you who read my debut memoir, Ontwaken uit de Amerikaanse droom, you know that I have been wrestling with the garden gods of this house: When we moved in, the entire house was overgrown with roses and ivy, and the backyard was impenetrable due to a wilderness of blackberry bushes.

As the kids grew bigger, we put a lawn in, in front and back and that was a mistake. Soon the drought hit California and we had to “brown” our lawns to conserve water. Lawns are for English gardens — it needs a good soak now and then and those are few and far between in a state that has been named after a hot oven.

And then work happened and the blackberries came back and the things I had planted when I was still on a honeymoon with this house, were destroyed by the blackberries and other nefarious plants and weeds.


There are other issues with this house (like old windows), so the garden is not a priority. That said, in January I started attacking the blackberries again and they attacked me. I want to make the garden work for us this time, not by imposing our will upon it (like a French formal garden) but by letting the garden guide us (more like an English landscape garden). After all, in spite of the lawn, old bulbs, planted when this house was built, started poking up again inside the lawn and roses have always flourished and taken over. So why cut them back or replace them with something else that won’t adapt as well?


I was inspired by the garden of Anaïs Nin, whose house at Louveciennes (part of the Mme Dubarry estate), was described by Alfred Perlès. He said it was something akin to Le Grand Meaulnes, Nin’s garden being:

allowed to grow wild within reason. Nature was not permitted to gain the upper hand completely, but was, so to speak, kept on a leash: it could only go so far as to endow the place with a certain sleeping beauty ambiance, no further. But the touch of unreality, so cunningly contrived was impulsive; had a few elves or fauns suddenly appeared and pranced about the lawn, it would not have seemed incredible.


So… after removing all the blackberries, I was planting stuff yesterday and today, the soil so black, fertile and malleable that I felt like a kid playing in a sandbox. Gardening is back-breaking work and I’m not sure at all whether, as per Miller’s quote on top, I felt like God today, but there’s something about tending your own garden to make you focus on the here and the now. I can highly recommend it.


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