Paths of Desire – The Passions of a Suburban Gardener

Her garden was a refuge, a place to experiment, the plants and flowers offering stability in her suburban life – until the old garden wall came tumbling down after a storm, crushing all the old rooted pieces of her work, and awakening her to new possibilities.  In a gentle rambling style, Dominique Browning tells the story of her garden and her life in Westchester, New York in Paths of Desire – The Passions of a Suburban Gardener.

Mixing poignant memories, quiet meditation, and humorous negotiations with neighbors and the “Helpful Men” who work to restore the wall, improve the drainage, and repair the roof, Browning writes in a comforting tone to connect philosophical observations to the work of gardening.

“It can certainly take a long time to know what you want…there are times when you cannot really know what you can do… until you begin to act. And it was only until I began to transform my own garden that I truly understood what it meant…”

Browning, the former editor of House and Garden magazine, has written four gardening books under the House and Garden brand, and three that connect life’s challenges to the love of gardening.  Paths of Desire is the second in that series.

Whether you are a devoted weeder or a nonchalant seeder, Browning’s candid revelations about restoring her life after a divorce through her garden reads like a mix of romance (her on/off again relationship with “True Love”), social networking (every woman needs a crew of “Helpful Men”), and talk of aluminum lawn chairs and flowering plants – the azaleas, wisteria, hosta, rose of sharon…

As you follow her plans and decisions, and finally realize the resolution in a garden party, you may be motivated to go out and plant something.

The Curious Garden

Have you ever seen a flower or weed struggling through a crack in the concrete?  On the Big Island of Hawaii, new plant life emerges from the ash and cinders of the 1959 eruption of the volcano on Devastation Trail, a place named for its bare landscape.  The power of plants to stun us with their resilience and beauty is the theme of Peter Brown’s picture book – The Curious Garden.

Brown uses Manhattan’s old Highline elevated train tracks, long unused and now overgrown with wildflowers and trees as his inspiration for a little boy’s dream to beautify the city. Finding some struggling wildflowers among the deserted train tracks in the “dreary city without gardens,” Liam decides to help by being their gardener.  Eventually, the garden takes over, changing the gray city into a magnificent green world.

Brown’s text is simple and easy, with his art dominating most of the pages.  The city transforms gradually, with Liam taming the plants that pop up “where they didn’t belong” – on fire hydrants and stop signs, and enlisting “new gardeners” for rooftop displays all over Manhattan’s skyscrapers.  The last two facing pages open to gardens everywhere among the skyline.

The Curious Garden is a wonderful way to introduce children to the possibility of gardens anywhere and everywhere, and to remind adults that being green may just be helping nature take its course.