THE GARDEN IN EVERY SENSE AND SEASON with TOVAH MARTIN
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Being a gardener or nature lover engages us like little else on all levels – in all dimensions, senses and seasons. We can hear, we can taste, we can see and smell, we can touch AND we are moved to feel. It’s perhaps why these passions are so deeply ingrained in us in all cultures across time.
Tovah Martin is beloved gardener and garden writer who makes her home on a farm known as “Furthermore” in Connecticut. She is well known for her writing on indoor plants, and her first book "Once Upon a Windowsill" was published in 1988. She is equally well known for her evocative explorations of Tasha Tudor’s gardening life, of old fashioned heritage plants and flowers and her regular contributions to garden publications such as Gardens Illustrated, Garden Design, Country Gardens and Martha Stewart Living introducing us as readers to compelling home gardens around the country. Tovah has been a columnist for the New York Times and worked for many years at the renowned Logee's Nursery in a variety of capacities from "Begonia Curator" on up.
Her newest book is a particular treat in my opinion as we follow her in a four season exploration of the very tangible joys and full sensory experience that is a garden. “The Garden in Every Sense and Season” is out now from Timber Press, and Tovah joins us from her home of "Furthermore" to talk with us about this truly sensual adventure in what it means to be a gardener and to fully, wholly, deeply know your garden.
“Everybody who walks their dog in town, pretty much walks their dog by my house, so it’s very much a community type of garden. The first garden I put in, I put in from this little cobbler shop to the street. And I did it on purpose because I wanted [the garden] to be a part of the community, I wanted people to notice. I wanted to be that crazy lady that kids would say: 'Mom that lady is always head down and butt up.””
Tovah Martin, Gardener & Writer
I can look to my own garden book shelves and pick out several instances of Tovah Martin’s name on a binding from across my office. I’m a longtime fan of her work and yet there’s something about this newest book which is so – well, full bodied. As she writes in her Introduction entitled “Coming to My Senses,”: "This is the story of a n nose and how I followed it through the year." Or later, when she’s introducing us to the sensual pleasures of spring, she writes: "Couldn’t you just HUG IT?"
I really could, Tovah.
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Hey hey welcome to the dog days of summer in the Northern Hemisphere my gardening friends. It seems so fitting to me that this conversation with Tovah is being aired now – right in the thick of the dog days of summer, which according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac once coincided with the year’s heliacal (at sunrise) rising of the Dog Star, Sirius. Ancients believed that the “combined heat” of Sirius and the Sun caused midsummer’s swelter. It is a time of long, warm days and slowed activity.
In the phrase alone, I can hear the light afternoon breeze warm across a field, a fly droning lazily during a naptime in the shade, I can smell the intensity of the wall of 'Narrow Waters' roses in the still heat of the day in my back garden and the fruit and vegetables are at the peak of flavor – the tomatoes and the almost cool sticky fragrant oil of the stems as you pick them, the peaches with their hard and nubby pit in the center of the flesh, the watermelon, the basil…..hmmm….these and so much more – some really unexpected "mores" are what Tovah Martin realized after years of immersion in her garden life that she was sometimes overlooking – looking past – taking for granted. The process of her new book forced her to slow down and look closely and the book itself asks us to do the same.
I might sound like a broken record and mostly talking to my own busy head and days – but good lord, if we can’t slow down and really take these things in the dog days of summer, when the heck can we?
My favorite moments in Tovah’s book are the surprises things you wouldn’t think of having a taste, considering taste from a bird’s perspective, the sound in the garden of birds in a birdbath. Things that I know I register, but don’t always recognize that I’m registering – you know what I mean? We’re back to the #quantumgardening kinds of things. If you go out into your garden right now – today – a little like when I asked you to do the bug count – what would you hear if you closed your eyes; what would you see if you tried to see things from some alternate angles? What would you notice as a taste experience that you had not considered before – or the fragrance you note most strongly during that nap in the shade?
What senses do you exercise the most? When Tovah made this remark: "I think sight is the sense we exercise most often" – it stuck with me. Is this true I wondered? Yes, all of our senses are at work all the time but as we grow and develop routine in this world we gate or block out information that our brain does not feel it is necessary to process – our brains decide for us – without our even noticing – what information we need to actually be conscious of – thus the beautiful vividness of going to a new country and actually seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling TASTING everything – its so rich and exhausting. It is, as Tovah so accurately states – our senses and cognition being exercised. It’s also why when we have hurt something – bumped or bruised or nicked or gotten a thorn that festers in the pad of our thumb – we are very aware of that place on our body. Who knew you brushed your thumb against just about everything all day long? – which is the altered awareness when there’s a reason – like pain – to pay attention….
This meta and quantum awareness – like all valuable skills – takes practice. You have to build and hone these skills.
So which sense are you going to work on this week? I’m thinking I will work on smell…..but maybe it’s taste – what is the taste of sweat? The taste of dirt? The taste of foliage residue on your hands as you’re deadheading then get nicked by a thorn and instinctively put your finger to your mouth? What is the taste of the morning air as you set your sprinkler?
And yes – you got it – I’d love to hear! Please share thoughts or stories by email through the contact page at Cultivatingplace.com (scroll to bottom of page), or write them in the comments of this episode’s post on Instagram and Facebook. I’ll try to add some of the observations shared to the next A View From Here newsletter – (the most recent one went out mid-July – did you get it?)
And good luck with the sensory workout schedule – I hope it brings surprises and joys….
And if you liked this episode – and feel moved – SHARE IT WITH FRIENDS (family, neighbors, meter maids, strangers, passersby) ....:)