Into the Garden with Charles: A Memoir

Into the Garden with Charles: A Memoir

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by Clyde Phillip Wachsberger

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Set in the tiny village of Orient, Long Island, and in New York City, Into the Garden with Charles is a memoir about falling in love. As a boy in suburban New York in 1940s, Clyde Wachsberger daydreams about storybook gardens where magic happens under the huge leaves. Through the 1960s and 1970s, when most gay men disdained monogamy, the author—an


Set in the tiny village of Orient, Long Island, and in New York City, Into the Garden with Charles is a memoir about falling in love. As a boy in suburban New York in 1940s, Clyde Wachsberger daydreams about storybook gardens where magic happens under the huge leaves. Through the 1960s and 1970s, when most gay men disdained monogamy, the author—an artist and set-designer in New York City—searches unsuccessfully for a soul mate. In 1983, approaching middle-age and having given up on finding love, he moves to a three-hundred-year-old house on a third of an acre, where he channels his passion into creating a garden appropriate to his historical home. Then remarkable circumstances lead him to Charles—a connoisseur of art, a gardener, and the man who will become his life-partner. Together they create a garden of sensuous wild beauty.

Into the Garden with Charles is infused with the author's artistic sensibility and is written in a voice that is unaffected, generous, and straightforward. Enriched with the author's paintings—giving it the look and feel of an antique children's book—Into the Garden with Charles is a unique and moving memoir about growing old and falling in love.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Wachsberger’s refreshing and heartfelt memoir invites the reader into a house, a garden, and two lives filled with affection and warmth. Sagging floorboards and rotting linoleum greet Wachsberger (Stories and Poems for Gardeners) when, in 1983, he buys a 300-year-old house on Long Island. What will become a splendid garden is a “whole empty field around a clump of peonies.” The author, having “turned fifty without noticing how I had gotten there,” began “to grow around my loneliness the way a tree limb can grow through a chain-link fence, incorporating the sharp metal into its fiber without showing any outward signs of distress.” And then he falls in love with Charles. For Charles and Clyde, there are the impingements of aging (“It had been many years since anyone had seen me naked”) and of illness. When Clyde met Charles, he found the “best friend who was also an affectionate lover, a friend who shared my deepest yearning to be someone special for someone special” he had been looking for. Together they form a union, produce a book (Of Leaf and Flower ), and nurture a noteworthy garden. With a keen ear and eye for the anecdotal, Wachsberger sketches beautifully lucid picture in words, and his illustrative paintings add both beauty and emotional content to this candidly romantic memoir. (Jan.)
From the Publisher

“There is something about the way they blend their lives, the way they are kind to each other, that is so comforting. It makes a reader long for the book, for the world of the book--the long winter evenings, the summer days with visitors and friends. Wachsberger has a wide-eyed, boyish gratitude--how could this life have possibly come to him? He does not seem to realize that he created it.” —Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Review of Books

“Destined to become a classic, Into the Garden with Charles by Clyde Philip Wachsberger is a jewel of a memoir. The author's charming watercolors accompany this tale of a lonely New Yorker with an unsuspected botanical bent who abandons the pursuit of love and pours his heart into a garden--one that becomes ‘as demanding and manipulative as a jealous lover, and as high maintenance.' That adoring care prepares him for the entrance into his life of an elegant Southerner named Charles. The two men blossom in each other's company, reviving that ancient (but forever fertile) metaphor of a garden of love.” —Molly Peacock, More

“Illustrated by Skip's enchanting watercolors, [Into the Garden with Charles] charts the seasons of his magnificent garden alongside his 16-year relationship with Charles, until both love affairs are cut short by Skip's cancer. Even the book's chapters are landscape-based, with each focusing on a different offering from the private half-acre garden . . . The result is a luminous account of a life painstakingly sown and reaped.” —Kelly McMasters, Newsday

“Clyde Phillip Wachsberger's delightful memoir about tending beds of flowers as compensation for a lonely middle age only to find unexpected romance along the way is a sweet reminder that, as he puts it, ‘anything can happen in a garden.' In prose that balances candor with perfect courtesy, he charms us with the message that keeping a garden with a beloved companion, this most ephemeral of all the arts, can bring us the most enduring joys and pleasures.” —Philip Gambone

“Clyde Phillip Wachsberger has written a sweet and poignant book about loneliness and love and the restorative power of a garden.” —Page Dickey, author of Embroidered Ground\

Into the Garden with Charles is well on its way to becoming a cult classic.” —Mac Griswold, author of Pleasures of the Garden

Kirkus Reviews
A love story to the author's lush Long Island garden, to his affectionate partner and to the beauty, surprise and evanescence of life. Wachsberger (co-author: Daffodil, 2004, etc.) begins his memoir with a living snapshot: a moment in the garden with Charles, his partner, who is trimming the privet hedge; the author ruminates about how he had always dreamed of having such a companion. Wachsberger found his house (which was three centuries old, and showed it) in Orient, N.Y., in the 1980s. Living alone, he devoted himself to his garden. As he gradually improved the house and expanded the garden, he revisits his past, telling us about his parents, relatives and boyhood dreams, all of which, he writes, were romantic. But he'd never had much luck with lovers, had about given up and even considered suicide. Then he met Charles through a personal ad, and they clicked. The two became inseparable, and soon the author's garden became "our" garden. Each brought to the task unique interests and perspectives (Charles liked more control; the author liked to see how things would work out). Their lives became rounds of acquiring plants (some quite rare), waiting for things to bloom, acquiring a puppy, going to the opera and arranging garden tours. Their lives became their Eden. The story darkens when the author developed prostate cancer; the disease had metastasized, eliminating the possibility of surgery or radiation. He tried hormone therapy and other experimental drugs, but readers will detect Wachsberger's valedictory mood. A writer tends the garden of his life with tears of joy.

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
5.86(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.82(d)

Read an Excerpt

Into the Garden with Charles

A Memoir
By Clyde Phillip Wachsberger

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2012 Clyde Phillip Wachsberger
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780374175719

Into the Garden with Charles
The Privet HedgeCharles is on the next-to-top step of our wobbly A-frame ladder, trimming our privet hedge, wielding the electric clippers with the concentration of a sculptor. I'm on the bottom rung, steadying him, looking up at him tall against puffy white clouds and brilliant blue sky. He's wearing an old striped pullover torn here and there by rose thorns, faded pants that were once dress slacks, and muck boots that were a Christmas present from his mother a few years ago. His cap has a flap to protect his neck from the sun. It reminds me of a French Foreign Legionnaire's hat.Not for the first time, I wonder if I have invented Charles. For half a century I daydreamed of a devoted companion, a best friend, a cherished lover. Maybe I'm still dreaming. If any neighbors strolled past right now, would they see me holding on to an empty ladder, staring up at the sky, talking to myself?The clippers stop snarling. The ladder shudders. Charles is moving up to the top step. I snap out of my reverie to warn, "There's a notice glued on that step that says you shouldn't stand on it.""Please give me the small pruners."Without looking, he reaches an empty hand toward me. He wiggles his fingers, so I place the pruners in his hand.Charles is six foot four, but just now he needs the top of theladder to get at a wayward sprig interrupting the flawlessly rounded surface he has shaped. He stretches forward over the smooth curve of the hedge, one long leg far out for balance, snips what he wants to get rid of, brushes away the few bits of leaves with a flourish, hands me the pruners without looking. From his back pocket he pulls out the nail scissors that are usually on a shelf over our bathroom sink and snips off one unruly leaf.The hedge was a foot tall when I bought this property almost thirty years ago. Now it is trimmed high and billowy like a soft fur collar around the house. There was once a gap in the hedge, but years ago I planted a climbing red rose there with the idea that it would someday cascade over the privet. Friends warned me that it would be a nightmare to prune around a rose. They were right. I never got it looking the way I had imagined. Now Charles has the privet running smoothly, right up to the rose's thorny stems tumbling down the hedge in sprays of garnet blossoms.I shift my weight to secure the ladder. Next to me is the cucumber magnolia that Charles started from seed years before we met, now taller than our house. Through its lower branches I can just see our new rose arbors. Charles had the idea that they would define entrances into our garden. Opera-velvet red 'Etoile de Hollande' and silvery pink 'Viking Queen'are already draping themselves over the arches.I notice our friend Karen walking toward us from her home down the block, and at the same time Rover, our Havanese, has seen her from his upstairs window, where he's been watching Charles prune. He's barking to let us know she's coming for a visit, telling us to stop hedging and come play. He wants us all together.Karen calls out her hellos, Charles answers over the hedge, Rover barks.Maybe this is all real.Text and watercolors copyright © 2012 by Charles Randall Dean


Excerpted from Into the Garden with Charles by Clyde Phillip Wachsberger Copyright © 2012 by Clyde Phillip Wachsberger. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author

Clyde Phillip Wachsberger was an artist, gardener, and writer who lived in Orient on Long Island's North Fork. His published books include Daffodil, Rose, and Of Leaf and Flower: Stories and Poems for Gardeners, which he coedited with his partner, Charles Dean, and for which his illustrations won a Garden Writers Association Gold Award for best book illustration. He died in November 2011.

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Into the Garden with Charles: A Memoir 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
bookladygran More than 1 year ago
As a gardener, I could empathize with the desire to plan and plant, and loved the descriptions of all the items that they found and cared for. But this is a book about so much more than a garden on the eastern end of Long Island. It is also a poignant love story, beautifully told. The illustrations by the author add much to making this a very personal story that made me smile, grateful that it had been shared.