“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero
Clay tablets. Papyrus scrolls. The earliest libraries of ancient civilizations were governmental, dedicated to business inventories, state record keeping, and also housed some knowledge relating to history, science, astronomy, and philosophy. (You can tell I looked up the history of libraries on Wikipedia.) It wasn’t until the 5th century BC that private or personal libraries consisting of written books became popular in Greece.
Nowadays, one might collect Ferraris or Fabergé eggs to demonstrate one’s wealth. Back then, rich old Greeks wishing to impress would buy and display books that they never read and never would read. Seneca complained, “Now, like bathrooms and hot water, a library is got up as standard equipment for a fine house.” It was just window-dressing, books by the yard.
I expect we think of bathrooms and hot water as slightly more necessary than books, even if we are rabid readers. But when our basic needs are taken care of, Cicero is right. There’s a wonderful wall of books in my living room, two closets with shelves lined with books, and several unopened boxes of books in storage. I’ve probably given away, donated, and sold more books than I still possess, since we’ve moved quite a bit and I don’t usually re-read. At the moment, there are hundreds of unread books on my Kindle. Does that stop me from 1-Clicking? I’m afraid not. At least that electronic TBR pile won’t topple over and kill me. I’ll never be bored, if I remember to charge the device.
However, I’m really here to talk about my garden. Writing and gardening have something in common—you are never truly done. Even after a book is in print, I can see opportunities I missed. A more succulent word could have been added here. A plot point there should have been more fully explored. And as I sit at my desk, the weeds are not at all respectful of my advanced age. It’s like having perpetual homework hanging over your head, no matter if you graduated long, long ago.
When I’m writing, I think I should be outside. When I’m outside, I feel like I’m cheating on my manuscript. If only I could clone myself, or manage my time better, those problems would be solved.
We moved into this house almost two years ago, and one of its selling features was its small three-tiered, park-like fenced garden, with exquisite stonework and numerous perennial shrubs and flowers. There’s a pond with a rock fountain, a sun terrace, a hammock, a fire pit, a hot tub. Really, you never have to leave home to go on vacation.
However, it isn’t maintenance free. I’ve been pretty stubborn this spring, trying to do mostly everything myself with the occasional help of my 13-year-old granddaughter and her friends. One Saturday my oldest daughter and her husband came and bagged up eleventy-billion leaves. Another daughter cut back the roses and tree hydrangeas. My husband bought a leaf vacuum, and roars around the yard. Sadly, my garden guy moved to New Mexico last December, though the 200 spent purple tulips he planted for me last fall that I now should trim remind me of him every day. Much as I hate to admit it, I need some professional help.
But life is good. I have books to read, books to write, and a garden. And two working bathrooms! Cicero and Seneca would approve.
Green thumb? Black thumb? How does your garden grow? What’s your TBR pile like?
“You can bury any number of headaches in a garden.” – Charles Barnard
Maggie Robinson has written over twenty historical mysteries and romances. Her latest series, the 1920s-set Lady Adelaide Mysteries, features a widowed marquess’s daughter, and Anglo-Indian Scotland Yard detective, and the pesky ghost of her late and unlamented husband. The fourth and final book, Farewell Blues, releases in September.