By SUSANNE MARIE POULETTE
I returned from the Break Out Novel Intensive Workshop in Oregon energized with fresh writing tools and recommendations for my novel. A flood of plans and possibilities crisscrossed my brain and each time I looked at my manuscript I thought, “Not yet.” The seeds of the workshop were germinating but not ready to sprout.
At the same time, I came back with beautiful images of the workshop setting in the Hood River area. Unlike my home in Saratoga County, New York, Oregon was in the full bloom of spring. Their trees flaunted a rich array of greens and pastel flowers of lilacs, hydrangeas, and mixtures of pink blossoms. Golden daffodils and red tulips lined paths along the conference center, and tiny daisy-like flowers peppered large sections of an adjacent park. If my memory serves me—from my childhood days of eating wild raspberries as fast as I could pick them—the banks along the Columbia River just outside our hotel, teamed with budding raspberry bushes. Everywhere I looked, there was color. Everywhere, new life.
At home, the trees were bare and grass was brown, but, alleluia, the snow was gone. Then, within two days, I noticed tiny buds emerging on sprightly branches all across my yard. I gathered up my gardening tools, and headed to my perennial beds to see what was or was not happening. Then I saw it. Just as the writing workshop’s seeds of inspiration were germinating, so was my garden. By the end of the week, my forsythia bushes sprouted blooms, the chive was tall enough for salad, and the oregano and day lilies were wild with life. Energized by the season’s promises, I now feel ready to transplant my manuscript’s sprouts from head to page.
For me, working the garden and digging hands deep into the soil is no different from writing. Both tasks require careful, thorough planning. I learned this the hard way when I jumped into my first novel without a road map for my plot. Likewise, I jumped into my first garden by planting 36-inch tall cone flowers in front of 12-inch high lavender, another plot without a map. Fortunately for me, drafts are revised and rewritten, sometimes for years and years. (But that’s another story.) While in the garden, most plants can be moved easily and are usually quite forgiving of the change.
Patience is essential in both writing and gardening. Neither job can be rushed. Each needs its own time to develop, grow deeper, and flourish. Writing and gardening both demand tons of weeding and pruning, yanking and tossing what doesn’t belong, what detracts and chokes.
There are libraries of books on gardens with A to Z growing instructions, designs, and worlds of information. There are books on writing fiction, developing the narrative arc and characters, creating tension, and even producing a breakout novel. But in the end, it’s a personal path in both cases. Yes, we refer to the experts and then throw ourselves into the work, filling it with our individuality, creativity, passion, and preferences. Above all, we want others to take notice of our work and feel as moved by it as we do. We want to touch hearts and lives through the voice of our writings and gardens.
Beatrix Potter is one author who enjoyed gardening and found inspiration there for her writing and her painting. Marta McDowell’s book, Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Classic Children’s Tales, is a beautiful accounting of Beatrix Potter’s love of gardening and plants, and how that passion came to be reflected in her work. McDowell told Joyce Neuman of Garden Variety:
“There are many writers who garden and who write about gardening: Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edith Wharton, Eudora Welty, Emily Dickinson and, of course, Beatrix Potter. Why? Here’s my guess. Writing is a solitary, cerebral pursuit. Gardening is tactile, physical. Writing tends to be indoors, and it is divorced from nature. All nature is imagined, during the act of writing. Gardening balances that, by connecting the writer to life—plant life, the life in the soil, the insects and animals that the garden attracts and sustains. You can feel alone at the keyboard, but never in the garden. The garden is also the place to work out writing problems—other problems as well. Emerson said something like “All my hurts my garden spade can heal.”
You can read McDowell’s complete interview by clicking on the snoozing rabbits in Potter’s garden:
WE love our little garden,
And tend it with such care,
You will not find a faced leaf
Or blighted blossom there.
~ Beatrice Potter
View and read a bit about the inspiring gardens of famous writers such as Agatha Christie, George Bernard Shaw, Sir Walter Scott, Wordsworth, Roald Dahl, Virginia Woolfe, Beatrix Potter, and more at The Telegraph’s Twelve Wonderful Writers’ Gardens. Click on Oregon’s hydrangeas visit: