So many gardening books offer tips and techniques for growing specific plants in specific ways or combining plants into striking combinations. Not so with Gardening – Philosophy for Everyone: Cultivating Wisdom. This compilation delves into the more cerebral and historical human consequences of gardens and gardening .
Seventeen essays scrutinize gardening as a human activity related to wellbeing, wisdom, time, ideals, aesthetics, metaphysics, religion, and politics, notes editor Dan O’Brien in his introduction.
For instance, in The Virtues of Gardening, Isis Brook’s opines that gardening can improve the land by making soil more fertile or supportive of rich and varied plant life. Land developed in "contextually appropriate" ways, Brook notes, fits its immediate surroundings and does not deplete natural resources from afar. (Think composting and utilizing raw materials – cut grass, leaves – available on site.) Brook also suggests gardening improves people by cultivating engagement with other living things and fostering patience, sharing, and acceptance (we don’t control weather, organisms or creatures). Gardening forces us to recognize reality; to, as Brook writes, "meet the world as it is, not how we have created it in our imaginations."
In Cockney Plots, Allotments and Grassroots Political Activism, Elizabeth A. Scott calls the right to grow our own food "fundamental to our existence … to access the power and wealth that lies in the land." Scott delves into the history of Allotment gardens in the United Kingdom and how they "connect people in a complex web of political and social relationships that can have lasting meaningful results for communities and individuals."
Helene Gammack, in Food Glorious Food, investigates the cultivation of edibles throughout history by taking readers from the Middle Ages when raw fruit was thought unhealthy; through the terraced beds of vegetables and herbs, leek gardens, and kale yards grown to sustain inhabitants of British estates; to wartime Victory Gardens.
Other essays include:
· a dig into the first Mediterranean gardens from those described in Gilgamesh to the gardens in Mesopotamia, Egypt and Crete;
· how vegetable cultivation influenced empires;
· how Early American gardens such as George Washington’s inspired Lafayette’s creations in France;
· probes into ways plants/flowers/gardens connect us with past memories or help clarify our thoughts and thus become "enchantments;"
· examinations of gardening as a fine art, and gardens as works of visual art and reflections of time and music through the rhythm of change;
· and analyses of philosophers’ gardens.
The book’s format allows readers to reflect on each essay individually; to really soak up the concepts each author presents.
Sometimes it’s good to step away from summer plant tending to immerse thoughts in the history and philosophical impact of gardens and gardeners. Find a cozy seat, pour a tall glass of a cool drink, and pick up Gardening – Philosophy for Everyone: Cultivating Wisdom. There will be ample time between essays to pull some weeds or deadhead a few flowers.
The publisher, Wiley-Blackwell, provided this book, free of charge, for the purpose of this review.