For much of the last year, my writerly attentions have been laser focused on a manuscript that I’ve teased in social media with the hashtag #newnaturalism. The book of the same name, officially, New Naturalism: Designing and Planting A Resilient, Ecologically Vibrant Home Garden is now making its way through editing and production for a winter 2021 release from Cool Springs Press. Click on the cover or link above to pre-order!
Writing books is a strange profession. Novelist Margaret Mitchell is said to have pronounced upon completion of Gone With the Wind (a work that took her almost 10 years to produce): “In a weak moment, I have written a book.” It’s easy to arrive at the finish line beleaguered and baffled. Books require patience, if not also motivation; deadlines loom. The work is quiet and lonely, something seasoned writers can seemingly love and hate on the same day. Often there is more to say than your fingers can swiftly convey. On other days, giving up in favor of doing laundry is cheap therapy. A book becomes a medium through which to convey new ideas and present them for a wider audience. It’s a privilege and a responsibility.
New Naturalism is my fourth project in 12 years. I guess I’m often writing a book, even if it germinates in my head and makes its way into the world first as a lecture before sorting itself into something as coherent as a manuscript. Perhaps unlike many writers, I enjoy opportunities to verbally process new ideas with live audiences and convey them as much in visual media as words. In that sense, this latest work has evolved for many years from an adolescent interest in plants in wild spaces and an adult profession in interpreting those insights into gardens. These inquiries continue from here, but this book is a good milestone for rallying more gardeners to a verdant cause.
The central premise of New Naturalism grows out of our increasingly urbanized world and its Third Nature, a stylized interpretation of the experience of wildness seen in famous public landscapes like The High Line and others. In gardens, opportunities abound for creation and expression that serves more than our own aesthetic interests. Gardens can be up to something increasingly ecological, celebrating and translating the intrinsic chaos that exists in ecological systems into plant communities that support all sorts of life.
But for all their power to inspire, these public landscapes often seem lofty and unapproachable to home gardeners, even as they support an important call to action: to plant the world a more beautiful, functional place. Surprisingly the scale required to successfully interpret nature is remarkably small; the nature of gardens thrives right under our nose if only we’d lean in for a closer look. Fostering it only requires a different approach to planting. Further, this embrace of nature doesn’t require giving up the pleasure of gardening as we know it. The horticultural-ecological conversation should appeal to and engage the human experience, while articulating sound horticultural practices for success based less on how pretty a plant looks and instead on what good it can do. The goal of New Naturalism is to hasten the horticultural average towards something beyond mere human ambition towards truly resilient landscapes for an uncertain, but opportune future.
I look forward to sharing more about the book, my experiments here at Three Oaks Garden and my experiences of plants in the wild in the lead up to the book’s formal launch. I’ve attempted regularly blogs at many points in my career with mixed success. But given the current pandemic and a suspension of most travel for the near future, I’m hoping for more time to share my thoughts as they emerge, often as I kneel to weed or plant.