Parable is one of those Old — no, make that Ancient World words. Just saying it conjures up an image of a toga-ed philosopher sitting on the steps of the Parthenon, eager and inquisitive students kneeling and sitting and catching each one of his words.
That’s kind of how I felt as I read Margaret Roach’s newest book, The Backyard Parables. Okay, it wasn’t a toga party, but I could certainly imagine gardeners arriving from far and wide to her rural New York State garden — gathering about her as she shares the wit and wisdom of her words. (Note to self: find out Margaret’s Open Garden Day schedule.)
The book is divided into four chapters, each one devoted to a season and an element, making the book not only a year in the life of a garden, but also a year in the life of the gardener experiencing her garden. With strong prose and a sensitive style, Margaret brings her garden to life, as well as her interaction with it — including all of the drama (rescuing her frogs during an icy, snowy winter storm) and comedy (rescuing her frogs from an icy, snowy winter storm) that comes with gardening.
There is no doubt that Margaret is a gifted writer, but it’s her voice that welcomes readers into her world. A blend of insightfulness and humor and imperfection, she is immediately relatable. A particular favorite incident occurs on a blistering hot summer day when the author, who has never worn shorts in 30 years of gardening, caves in and cuts up a pair of old denim. Her legs see sun for the first time:
“. . . after several decades under wraps, they have adopted a cast that could very well be counted on to glow in the dark; they are light-deprived white asparagus or Belgian endive of lower limbs.”
Ever the teacher, Margaret weaves educational bits of information (like the concept of geosmin) throughout the narrative. It’s amazing what she knows — and not just about gardening. There are literary and scientific references throughout, and the tone is never condescending. Instead, the information is offered as a gift, something that makes the reader as rich as the writing. The practice, I believe, comes from one of Margaret’s core principles: learn something new each day.
To further punctuate this point, there are several garden-specific sidebars throughout the book, covering everything from Margaret’s philosophy on seed purchases (which now has me second-guessing my seed order) and saving and planting tropicals (a personal favorite). The sidebars are a detour off the garden path, and it’s always exciting to discover something that otherwise would never have been noticed.
On a personal note — Margaret, if you’re reading this — I wanted to thank you for Chapter 4. As I read the words dedicated to autumn and wind, I felt as if one minute I was reading about your garden and the next I was contemplating my own autumn. Fifty is around the corner, and the spring in my step has less bounce — and how will my garden and me change over time, and should I start prepping for my winter now?
I know, I know. That’s all very dramatic and morose, but it’s a lesson worth learning. And in the end, that’s what a parable is supposed to do, to provide an opportunity to contemplate and grow spiritually — and what better place to do that than in the wonders of a garden . . .
. . . or a gardening book.
And now, here’s a chance for all of you to experience some growth — either spiritually or in your book collection.
To receive your copy of The Backyard Parables, I turn to a question that Margaret Roach revisits in much of her writing:
Why do you garden?
You can leave your answer here to be part of the drawing. I’ll also post the same question on my Facebook page. Answer in both places, and that’s two chances to win.
Entries must be received by 9:00 am on Saturday, February 2.
May the luckiest gardener win.