The dead of winter is usually the time gardeners greedily consume seed and plant catalogues and dream of what they will grow in the spring.
Garden Voices; Stories of Women and Their Gardens, a book by McLean author Carolyn Rapp, gives gardeners a chance to explore their emotional connection to gardens and gardening. The book features the stories of several local women and delves into the personal aspects of gardening.
"Each woman has such a wonderful, special relationship with their garden," said Rapp of the women she chose to highlight in her book. "I learned that a beautiful garden is one that makes you happy. I, like so many people, flipped through the pages of magazines and looked at these beautiful gardens, like English Cottage gardens which are my favorite, and that was my ideal. But, it's very wise to look at where you live and create a garden that is in harmony with that," said Rapp.
The women and the gardens profiled each have a unique story. One chapter illustrates the parallels between gardening and relationships. While some couples work together seamlessly in the garden to create one unified blooming vision, other couples must work to merge their individual views of how the garden should look. Still other couples may give each other space to work their own section of land within their property.
Another chapter shows how a gardener used her passion for growing things to aid her in her fight against breast cancer. Another uses her garden to express her creativity and uses the blooms as a painter would to create visual art.
MARY POCKMAN of McLean, has a garden that provides her with pleasure as well as teaching opportunities. Her garden is dedicated to native plants. Pockman once served as the president of the native plant society and has been a longtime advocate of utilizing and protecting native plants. Gardening, says Pockman, "is not a homogenous undertaking."
Pockman explains that her style of gardening is really about being attentive to what is around you. "I think the first step to loving anything is paying attention. Many people don't pay attention to anything except people and perhaps mammals with big, soulful eyes," said Pockman.
Rapp, through women like Pockman, has learned to work with her land rather than trying to force her ideal garden on the property she has. "There's a part of my garden that comes back every year and there's a part where I experiment. I've become much more sensible," said Rapp. "My shade garden has taught me to be more observant. A lot of the plants in a shade garden are more subtle."
Garden Voices, Pockman said, gives the reader "a broader view about what gardening is about. I was fascinated by the very different approaches the women took." American gardeners have a long tradition of dispensing advice and tips to each other, rather than seeking formal education. Rapp's book exemplifies that approach through the trial and error, successes and failures of the women's gardens.
Rapp found each woman and her garden through serendipity. At first she talked with gardeners she knew personally but was quickly directed to other women through an informal gardening network. "I didn't have a preconceived notion about it, it just evolved, " said Rapp. "People would either say she's a really interesting woman or she has a great garden. It was always one or the other. I interviewed about 25 women. I tried to choose stories that were distinctly different from each other."
ACCORDING TO Julie Mehr, Rapp then found the gardeners and showed up with a tape recorder asking questions. "She was really cute with her tape recorder asking about gardening," said Mehr.
Mehr and her family are something of a legend, if not a tradition, around McLean because of their nursery and flower stand, Mehr Brothers, in the heart of McLean. The chapter "Zoe and Julie's story" is different from the others in that it features a commercial enterprise. The sheer intensity of the gardening done at Mehr's however, makes their efforts equal parts labor of love and back breaking.
The gardening done at Mehr Brothers is almost a community garden, given the numbers of people who enjoy the blooms as they drive through the section of McLean where the nursery is located. Years ago, according to Mehr, chairs and a picnic table were set up on the grounds for locals to sit and relax in. "I love the sense of community that we've created here," said Mehr. "We've gotten to know so many of our customers so well over the years that it feels like we are one big extended family and this connection is very gratifying," Mehr said.
Rapp's book allows the reader to explore a very private aspect of gardening through the eyes of a dozen gardeners of all types and aptitudes. With several inches of snow now blanketing the ground, it's an ideal time to think not only about what to put into the soil next year, but about what you will be taking from it. Garden Voices is like a trowel for gardeners hoping to make the most of their efforts.
Garden Voices is available March 1st in bookstores, through online booksellers or online at www.gardenvoices.com.