“There were flowers: delphiniums, sweet peas, bunches of lilac; and carnations, masses of carnations. There were roses; there were irises. Ah yes—so she breathed in the earthy garden sweet smell as she stood talking to Miss Pym who owed her help, and thought her kind, for kind she had been years ago; very kind, but she looked older, this year, turning her head from side to side among the irises and roses and nodding tufts of lilac with her eyes half closed, snuffing in, after the street uproar, the delicious scent, the exquisite coolness. And then, opening her eyes, how fresh like frilled linen clean from a laundry laid in wicker trays the roses looked; and dark and prim the red carnations, holding their heads up; and all the sweet peas spreading in their bowls, tinged violet, snow white, pale—as if it were the evening and girls in muslin frocks came out to pick sweet peas and roses after the superb summer’s day, with its almost blue-black sky, its delphiniums, its carnations, its arum lilies was over; and it was the moment between six and seven when every flower—roses, carnations, irises, lilac—glows; white, violet, red, deep orange; every flower seems to burn by itself, softly, purely in the misty beds; and how she loved the grey- white moths spinning in and out, over the cherry pie, over the evening primroses!”
[…] “But they beckoned; leaves were alive; trees were alive. And the leaves being connected by millions of fibres with his own body, there on the seat, fanned it up and down; when the branch stretched he, too, made that statement. The sparrows fluttering, rising, and falling in jagged fountains were part of the pattern; the white and blue, barred with black branches. Sounds made harmonies with premeditation; the spaces between them were as significant as the sounds. A child cried. Rightly far away a horn sounded. All taken together meant the birth of a new religion—“
(from Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf)
“Hello, Mr. Kercher said, stooping to pet a pile of green moss. He looked at the moss the way I’d seen people look at children or babies sleeping in strollers, soft bodies someone larger had to protect. Goodbye, he said just as quietly and seriously as before. He stood again and we kept walking.
Where I am from, we have many woods, many hikers. Here, not so many—people go to church instead. So we must let the forest know we appreciate it.”
(from Pew by Catherine Lacey)
“The fashionable international world attended en masse this afternoon at the wedding of the chevalier Jean Wyse de Neaulan, grand high chief ranger of the Irish National Foresters, with Miss Fir Conifer of Pine Valley. Lady Sylvester Elmshade, Mrs Barbara Lovebirch, Mrs Poll Ash, Mrs Holly Hazeleyes, Miss Daphne Bays, Miss Dorothy Canebrake, Mrs Clyde Twelvetrees, Mrs Rowan Greene, Mrs Helen Vinegadding, Miss Virginia Creeper, Miss Gladys Beech, Miss Olive Garth, Miss Blanche Maple, Mrs Maud Mahogany, Miss Myra Myrtle, Miss Priscilla Elderflower, Miss Bee Honeysuckle, Miss Grace Poplar, Miss O Mimosa San, Miss Rachel Cedarfrond, the Misses Lilian and Viola Lilac, Miss Timidity Aspenall, Mrs Kitty Dewey-Mosse, Miss May Hawthorne, Mrs Gloriana Palme, Mrs Liana Forrest, Mrs Arabella Blackwood and Mrs Norma Holyoake of Oakholme Regis graced the ceremony by their presence. The bride who was given away by her father, the M’Conifer of the Glands, looked exquisitely charming in a creation carried out in green mercerised silk, moulded on an underslip of gloaming grey, sashed with a yoke of broad emerald and finished with a triple flounce of darkerhued fringe, the scheme being relieved by bretelles and hip insertions of acorn bronze. The maids of honour, Miss Larch Conifer and Miss Spruce Conifer, sisters of the bride, wore very becoming costumes in the same tone, a dainty motif of plume rose being worked into the pleats in a pinstripe and repeated capriciously in the jadegreen toques in the form of heron feathers of paletinted coral. Senhor Enrique Flor presided at the organ with his wellknown ability and, in addition to the prescribed numbers of the nuptial mass, played a new and striking arrangement of Woodman, spare that tree at the conclusion of the service. On leaving the church of Saint Fiacre in Horto after the papal blessing the happy pair were subjected to a playful crossfire of hazelnuts, beechmast, bayleaves, catkins of willow, ivytod, hollyberries, mistletoe sprigs and quicken shoots. Mr and Mrs Wyse Conifer Neaulan will spend a quiet honeymoon in the Black Forest.”
(from Ulysses by James Joyce)
“He proposes that ‘the planting of a tree, especially one of the long living hardwood trees, is a gift which you can make to posterity at almost no cost and with almost no trouble, and if the tree takes root it will far outlive the visible effect of any of your other actions, good or evil.’”
[…] “They were questions about who he was and who we were and where pleasure and beauty and hours with no quantifiable practical result fit into the life of someone, perhaps of anyone, who also cared about justice and truth and human rights and how to change the world.”
[…] “He clearly, as he said in that credo, loved the surface of the earth. He was curious about daffodils and hedgehods and slugs; he spent a lot of time observing flora and fauna and weather.
Pursuits like that can bring you back to Earth from the ether and the abstractions. They could be imagined as the opposite of writing. Writing is a murky business: you are never entirely sure what you are doing or when it will be finished and whether you got it right and how it will be received months or years or decades after you finish. What it does, if it does anything, is a largely imperceptible business that takes place in the minds of people you will mostly never see and never hear from (unless they want to argue with you). As a writer, you withdraw and disconnect yourself from the world in order to connect to it in a far-reaching way that is other people elsewhere reading the words that came together in this contemplative state. What is vivid in the writing is not in how it hits the sense but what it does in the imagination; you can describe a battlefield, a birth, a muddy road, or a smell-Orwell would become famous for all the stenches mentioned in his books-but it is still black letters on a white page, with no real blood or mud or boiled cabbage.
A garden offers the opposite of the disembodied uncertainties of writing. It’s vivid to all the senses, it’s a space of bodily labor, of getting dirty in the best and most literal way, an opportunity to see immediate and unarguable effect. At the end of the day if you dug, how much you dug is as clear and definite as is the number of eggs collected from the chickens. The literary critic Kunio Shin notes of Winston Smith, the protagonist of Nineteen Eighty-Four, “In a world where ‘[n]ot merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality, [is] tacitly denied’ by the Party, Winston’s attempt to hold on to the truth of truisms-’Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall towards the earth’s centre’-is itself a desperate gesture of political resistance.” Elsewhere in the book, Orwell declares, “The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears,” which makes direct observations and firsthand encounters in the material and sensory world likewise acts of resistance or at least reinforcements of the self who can resist. To spend time frequently with these direct experiences is clarifying, a way of stepping our of the whirlpools of words and the confusion they can whip up. In an age of lies and illusions, the garden is one way to ground yourself in the realm of the processes of growth and the passage of time, the rules of physics, meteorology, hydrology, and biology, and the realms of the sense.”
(from Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit)