Cultivating Delight: A Natural History of My Garden

Cultivating Delight: A Natural History of My Garden

by Diane Ackerman

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060505363
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/01/2002
Series: Harper Perennial
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 562,416
Product dimensions: 7.92(w) x 10.92(h) x 0.67(d)

About the Author

Poet, essayist, and naturalist, Diane Ackerman is the author of many highly acclaimed works of nonfiction, including A Natural History of the Senses — a book beloved by readers all over the worldand the volumes Deep Play, A Slender Thread, The Rarest of the Rare, A Natural History of Love, The Moon by Whale Light, and a memoir on flying, On Extended Wings.

Her poetry has been collected into six volumes, among them Jaguar of Sweet Laughter: New and Selected Poems and, most recently, Praise My Destroyer.

Ms. Ackerman has received many prizes and awards, including the John Burroughs Nature Award and the Lavan Poetry Prize. A Visiting Professor at the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University, she was the National Endowment for the Humanities Distinguished Professor at the University of Richmond. Ms. Ackerman also has the unusual distinction of having had a molecule named after her — dianeackerone. She lives in upstate New York.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I plan my garden as I wish I could plan my life, with islands of surprise, color, and scent. A seductive aspect of gardening is how many rituals it requires. Uncovering the garden in the spring, for example. Replacing a broken-down metal gate with a burly wooden one. Transplanting rhododendrons to a sunnier spot. Moving the holly bushes to the side of the garage, to hide them from the deer, who nonetheless find and eat them, prickles and all. (It may be like our affection for strong peppermints, hot mustards, spicy peppers — maybe the prickles add a certain frisson to the deer's leafy diet.) By definition, the garden's errands can never be finished, and its time-keeping reminds us of an order older and one more complete than our own. For the worldwide regiment of gardeners, reveille sounds in spring, and from then on it's full parade march, pomp and circumstance, and ritualized tending until winter. But even then there's much to admire and learn about in the garden — the hieroglyphics of animal tracks in the snow, for instance, or the graceful arc of rose canes — and there are many strategies to plan.

Surely there is a new way to outwit the marauding deer and Japanese beetles? Gardeners understand the word pestilence as only medieval burghers did. Gardeners can be cultured and refined. They can be earthy, big-hearted folk who love to get their hands dirty as they dig in the sunshine. They may obsess about tidy worlds of miniature, perfectly blooming trees. They may develop a passion for jungle gardens reminiscent of Amazonia. They may specialize in making desertsbloom. They may adore the weedy mayhem of huge banks of wildflowers. They may create interflowing worlds of color and greenery, in which small meadows give way to a trellised rosebed; a moon garden with blossoms all silver or white; a water garden complete with small bridge and waterfall; a butterfly garden also visited by hummingbirds; a "flamboyant" garden filled only with red, yellow, and orange flowers; a hedge of pampas grasses whose tall plumes sway like metronomes.

Gardeners have unique preferences, which tend to reflect dramas in their personal lives but they all share a love of natural beauty and a passion to create order, however briefly, from chaos. The garden becomes a frame for their vision of life. Whether organic or high-tech, they share a dark secret, as well. Despite their sensitivity to beauty and respect for nature, they all resort to murder and mayhem with steel-willed cunning.

Nurturing, decisive, interfering, cajoling, gardeners are eternal optimists who trust the ways of nature and believe passionately in the idea of improvement. As the gnarled, twisted branches of apple trees have taught them, beauty can spring in the most unlikely places. Patience, hard work, and a clever plan usually lead to success: private worlds of color, scent, and astonishing beauty. Small wonder a gardener plans her garden as she wishes she could plan her life.

Cultivating Delight. Copyright © by Diane Ackerman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Reading Group Guide

Introduction

In Cultivating Delight, naturalist, poet, and author of the widely-beloved and bestselling A Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman shares with her readers the delight, joy, and pathos she experiences in the life of her garden and its myriad inhabitants. Here, Ackerman explores the living world outside the human element. It is through the ever-changing life and lives of and in her garden that Ackerman juxtaposes that which we attempt to control as humans whose natural inclination is for the imposition of order against that which is natural and therefore uncontrollable, and steeped in the always chaotic change of the seasons and the passage of time.

Whether Ackerman is deadheading flowers, or glorying in the profusion of more than 100 rose bushes and perennials; providing a regular meal of sugar water for the frenetic, frazzled and short life of the hummingbird; offering an off-season treat of peaches to the most dreaded, scavenging, and beautiful of garden pests, the deer; or even studying the slug, the author welcomes the unexpected drama and extravagance, as well as the sanctuary the garden provides not only to her, but to its other inhabitants as well. It is through her garden that Ackerman offers her readers the firsthand experience of the beauty of impermanence, with which the passage of time comes not only death in the garden, but life as well.

Discussion Questions
  • In Cultivating Delight, the author refers to patience and persistence, fondness for ordeal, and a fascination with new customs and ideas as being the necessary calling cards of the true gardener. Why do you think this is thecase, and is it true among all gardeners? What are some of the instances that occurred in the life of the author's garden where she needed to rally all of her patience, her fondness for ordeal, and her fascination with new customs?

  • Does the author ever manage to allow her human desire for order to overtake her love of the natural? If so, when? Do you think that the author feels it's possible to be a dedicated gardener and not impose order, or is order itself a necessary by-product of being human?

  • One would assume that with gardens as large and beloved as Ackerman's, that one would be dedicated to ridding it of the pests that threaten to devour it. Why is it then that Ackerman has such a high tolerance -- almost a love -- for what gardeners traditionally consider to be dangerous pests: deer, rabbits, raccoons, slugs, and weeds? Why would she consider planting an entire lawn of weeds?

  • What was Ackerman's most helpful piece of advice to you as a gardener? Has she changed the way you look at your garden, or the way you work in your garden? If so, how?

  • Ackerman frequently humanizes her garden: she speaks of its accomplishments, its "mood-swings" and chemical fluctuations, its teasing sexual habits and functions. Do you think that the humanizing of the garden will help or hinder you as a gardener vis a vis its maintenance or care? Does this humanizing negatively or positively affect the gardener's ability to perform certain tasks in the garden, for example, spreading "weed killer"? Will her humanization of the garden challenge you to think and perform differently as a gardener? About the Author: Poet, essayist, and naturalist, Diane Ackerman is the author of many highly acclaimed works of nonfiction, including the bestselling A Natural History of the Senses, Deep Play, A Slender Thread, The Rarest of the Rare, A Natural History of Love, The Moon by Whale Light, and On Extended Wings. Her poetry has been collected in six volumes, among them Jaguar of Sweet Laughter: New and Selected Poems, and most recently, Praise My Destroyer.

    Ms. Ackerman has received many prizes and awards, including the John Burroughs Nature Award and the Lavan Poetry Prize. A Visiting Professor at the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University, she was the National Endowment for the Humanities Distinguished Professor at the University of Richmond. Ms. Ackerman also has the unusual distinction of having had a molecule named after her -- dianeacerkone. She lives in upstate New York.

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