Interwoven Wild

8 July 2008

Interwoven Wild: An Ecologist Loose in the Garden
by Don Gayton
Published by Thistledown Press
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$15.95 ISBN 978-1-897235-35-5

When one considers gardening books, “coffee table” books containing sumptuous photographs might spring to mind, but BC writer and nationally-known ecologist Don Gayton has written a gardening book of another nature, and for this gardener’s money, it’s far more satisfying than a full-colour, glossy album of gardens I could never aspire to.

Gayton’s book of intelligent, easy-to-read literary essays, Interwoven Wild: An Ecologist Loose in the Garden delivers an ideal combination of history, witty personal anecdotes, and practical information. A vague through-line exists in the antics of Gayton’s dandelion-flinging dachshund, Spud, “who looks like an Irish setter might if it were left in the dryer too long.”

Gayton is a first-rate writer and an “every person’s” philosopher. He makes the biology of a compost bin sound like both poetry and stand-up comedy (“Nobody likes a monotonous diet, not even bacteria”). Of the “Split Eden” – our penchant for pairing the cultivated and the wild – he contends that this duality “courses well beyond yard and garden into our very understanding of nature.”

His subjects include soil quality (“To exceed ten percent organic matter … is to arrive at a highly evolved karmic state”, the pinnacle being soil that exhibits “the colour and texture of German chocolate cake”); the importance of honouring the “edge” in gardening (“Pathways, raised beds, rock walls and massed plantings … make for much more satisfactory treasure and Easter egg hunt terrain ..”); and his own struggles to build rock walls. He relays how “Plants and landscapes are a wonderful source of art inspiration” and contemplation, and his examples range from Monet to poet Patrick Lane.

From the chapter “Weeds ‘R’ Us”: “The dandelion is indeed a superstar, a role model that other weeds can look up to.” One of his numerous great tips is to control weeds by “beat[ing] them at their own game” and “plant[ing] something even more aggressive than the weed is …” Another gem concerns native plants, which “sleep in the first year, creep in the second year, leap in the third year.”

Much of that endearing trait – jolly self-deprecation – is present. Regarding plant identification, Gayton writes: “The way this process works in my own head reminds me of an elaborate nonsense machine, cobbled together from bicycle parts and inexpensive kitchen appliances … a lot of extraneous mental clanking and banging, and I believe a cuckoo clock is involved.”

Add paragraphs on the history of gardening, greenhouses, and landscape architecture; responses to the why of gardening (“views of lush vegetation can trigger a sense of ease and personal contentment …”); tree lore; yard art; the poetry of garden tools; plant sex; garden therapy; xeriscaping; and interwoven wisdom ” … we enter greenhouses not so much to know nature, but to know nature in order to better understand ourselves,” and you have the formula for a superb book.

Interwoven Wild is indeed “for everyone who sees deeper meanings in their gardens and landscapes.” Easy-to-read, yes. Easy-to-admire, even more so. This is full-colour.


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