Botanical Books: ‘Seed to Dust: Life, Nature and a Country Garden’

Our thanks to SLBI supporter, Craig Swick, for this book review.

Mark Hamer, Seed to Dust:  Life, Nature and a Country Garden (Greystone Books 2021).

This is a delightful book; so well written it seems like a novel.  There are several levels of story going on throughout the book and all relate to the lessons of life that can be learned from a garden.  At one level it is about what a gardener does to plan and maintain a 12-acre garden in rural Wales.  He tells us about the tasks that need to be done each month and why he plants things the way he does or trims them the way he does.  He explains the benefits to the plants, insects and wildlife in the garden and tells us why older tools and methods are better than the new mechanized ones.

At another level he gives us his thoughts on why the progression of the garden through the year is like a person’s progress through life.  A plant “Like every living thing, … will flow from nothing to being and back to nothing again.” (p. 70) Each new event in the garden is a time to reflect bigger issues.  He is especially fond of repeating lessons from the stoics and from Japanese Buddhism; reminding us that in life and the garden nothing is permanent and that our frame of mind determines how we react to situations.

The book also is about his personal growth though life.  He had a difficult childhood, spent several years homeless, and finally found that being a gardener was the best choice for him.  Throughout the book he talks about his relationship with the owner of the estate where he works; he cares for her and tries to develop a closer relationship but it never happens.  His wife is a more constant presence who understands him and there are children with whom he has little contact.

Eventually winter comes, his employer dies, and he finds he cannot emotionally continue working in the garden.  The book ends with many philosophical observations and his decision to try a new style of life.

I recommend this book for everyone who finds meaning added to their life through gardening or their connection with nature.

Craig Swick

December 2021

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