As Barbara Blossom Ashmun reveals in Married to My Garden, her new collection of essays, a romance with gardening may thrive even as relationships falter and old friendships fade away. Like-minded readers will delight in Ashmun’s buoyant, spirited reveries, doubtless recognizing the obsessive focus of a besotted neophyte, as well as the hard-won wisdom of an experienced green thumb who survives having loved and lost a favorite daphne.
A trove of trials, triumphs, and strikingly familiar challenges surfaces in these pages. In a chapter titled Enslaved, an empty garden bed beckons, making way for a fantasy to be realized—but only after practicing patience for at least a few months. Those of us who suffer from a gardening addiction might recognize forbearance as one of many important lessons to be learned when we dig about in the soil.
Yet, doesn’t time pass quickly when we’re engaged in planning, planting, and maintaining our green sanctuaries? In the process of bringing together these brief vignettes, penned over a twenty-year span, Ashmun gracefully captures the tempo of creating a garden. It’s certainly fun to be invited along, sharing her journey and finding inspiration in her progress. Opening Your Heart expresses Ashmun’s readiness to hold an open garden day—an event that often strikes fear in otherwise confident individuals. The excitement involved in preparation is keenly rendered, as is the ultimately pleasurable outcome of basking in myriad exchanges with visitors.
It is an altogether different story when horticultural sage, Christopher Lloyd, turns up at the garden gate. A Critic Comes Calling caused me to wince at Lloyd’s barbed observations, relishing Ashmun’s candor all the while—not to mention her fortitude, whether deflecting advice or parrying with the esteemed elder statesman of the gardening world. I found myself beaming at Ashmun’s ability to hold her tongue and “count to ten,” keeping silent when Lloyd refers to the heavy tasks performed by his head gardener. Lacking “even an assistant gardener” to call upon myself, I could sympathize with her lot in life.
Most of all I came away from Married to My Garden with an excellent mantra. Reflecting Ashmun’s state of mind some days after Lloyd’s departure, she writes, “I love my garden with all its shortcomings.” A simple statement, perhaps summarizing the impetus behind all the cultivating, toiling over, and enthusiastic embracing of our personal parcels of earth: the sustenance received is the heart of what we gardeners are all about.
Alice Joyce, garden travel writer
San Anselmo, California