Emily Dickenson, Emily Dickinson Book, Emily Dickinson Museum Museum discussed on Cultivating Place
This is cultivating place conversations on natural history and the human impulse to garden certain from north state public radio in northern California. I'm Jennifer Jewel. Emily Dickinson was a gardener. She was also an iconic poet. And and this week we enjoy a conversation. With Garden Writer Marta McDowell to hear more about how the two callings intermingled in the life of emily only Dickinson. Welcome Marta arm so happy to be back Jennifer. I also happy to have you. I will note that this makes you the all all time. Most interviewed person on cultivating place. Marta so we should have like a drum roll. Happy to have Marta back back. So I have given you a little bit of an introduction but remind listeners and tell new listeners of whom there are a great many a little a bit about your own current practice in what you do as a writer what you do as a gardener of course while I consider myself self a garden writer and really I do a lot of things that you can append the word garden too you so I teach about gardening. I lecture about gardening. I they do some consulting on gardening and I very much garden myself as well and tell tell us just a tiny bit about your current garden and partly why I want you to describe this for listeners is that it bears the beautiful traces traces in threads and clues of almost all the books you have worked on which I think you like to describe as being at the sort of intersection of the pen and the Trowel trowel. Yes so the reason my garden is overcrowded. Just definitely read too much and so when I read about a an author who likes to garden I want to grow. Grow what they grew it. It's like a little link through time as if I could reach out I- fingers and touch them. I'm in a way that is not the into page which you know we so often encounter a writer through the printed page but actually through this medium medium of plant yeah give us an illustration of how this has worked for you. So and I I say this again to just illustrate this wonderful crossover that you include in all the books that I have read of yours. which is sort of how to have a garden in like this person would have had a garden and this was true in the Laura Ingalls Wilder Book and this is definitely true in the Emily Dickinson Book? And I believe it was true in terms of at least plant lists in all the president's gardens as well. Yes I seem to like to count. Things are always very long-planned implant list. must be some like personality type but my garden is. Let's see it's a garden of about a half an acre occurred. It is in a suburban neighborhood. My house is not new. It was built in nineteen twenty nine. Which means it's approaching one hundred years old? It sits on the front of the property so in the front. I have only only things that aren't lawn in the back. I have a tiny so-called lawn although most people who who look at it probably wouldn't call it that and I have many trees my one little patch of son I have flowers ars and herbs and then I have a woodland garden in the back and I think that's the one. Interestingly that Emily Dickenson has influenced the most because she did do a lot of wildflower collecting in wildflower walks and so in her home in her letters there so many wildflowers and she's she's from Massachusetts. I live in New Jersey. You know basically. That's a little colder where she is but I can grow most of the things that she would have found and in the woods around amherst Massachusetts so things like blood route. You know what a what a great emily Dickenson glanced right. Yeah you know You know just so many of those little spring ephemeral the things that bloom in in the spring and then completely disappear at least in my garden by the end of the summer. And then don't pop up again until next spring Burton. Yeah so you've been a gardener far longer than you've been a garden writer and you've been garden writer for a very long time now. How did one become the other and tell us about emily? Dickinson's role in that. So the the minute I had a little patch patch of earth which was round. I duNNo. Let's say nineteen eighty. I started to garden and started to just WanNa grow growth things in in a way. It didn't matter what the thing was. I just really discovered this connection to the soil and and Emily Dickinson happened entirely by accident. It was when I was in a completely different life I was. I had a job in corporate America. I would go on these trips from Lil. You know the head office in New Jersey and go out to visit insurance agencies at in this case ace and I was going across Massachusetts visiting agencies and I had a spare afternoon and I I literally told off into a higher a rest area and stared at the brochure wreck. Can you picture that yes again right. And so there was the thing for the Emily Dickinson Concerned Museum and I thought Oh hit studied Emily Dickinson you know. Let me go up to the museum and so I called. I'm sure on the pay phone and and said can I still make it. And she said Yes yes come and I found out that day Emily Dickinson had been a gardener and the door opened opened for me. I'm I suppose was poetry. It was like you know two roads diverged in the Ray Right right and so I just I. I absolutely became obsessed with Emily Dickinson and her gardening interests. And so that was a round nineteen eighteen ninety eight Two years later I I left my corporate job. I published an article about Emily Dickinson. I you know I just. I took another track. I started studying gardening. You know more seriously and you know kind of building up. I don't know and then you know I published a book in two thousand five and two thousand ten. I worked with the New York Botanical Garden on a big shows. You would think I had planned it right but I did just happen. It just happened. And and somehow the universe the collective consciousness the the seeds dormant in your own soul Found you took took you and grew you along this path and it was It has taken several kind of guises since then But Emily Dickinson was definitely the start. And when you say you published a book in two thousand five. That was your first book on Emily Dickinson. The first edition of this book is that correct. Yes and that was my first book about gardening and the same likewise with the big exhibit at The New York Botanic Tena Gardens. That was all sort of botanic garden exhibition about Emily Dickinson her gardening life and her gardening hardening motivation as well. Correct yes and I should say you know. This is the value of going to a museum right right. You know it's like you may not think anything in particular about a museum but you know it really something can touch you. And I've stayed involved with the museum really from the start. So that's been a continuous thread. And when you say the museum you are specifically referring to the Emily Dickinson Museum Museum in Amherst. That's right so you know they've been lovely to work with through the years on various programs and I work in the gardens. And you know it's it's it's really been great so I mean I I definitely want to get to that. I want to hear about your gardener for in residence Experience which I think is just so wonderful and volative and inspiring to me and I'm sure many other listeners as even a concept Marta. But let's go back to that very first article then burning into a book the first I kind of iteration of what is now your second edition give us just a basic. What were you trying to accomplish? What were you trying to document went in there so that we have the context from which to understand how this updated one is is different and expands on that original regional heart? So for me. The big surprise was that Emily Dickinson was a gardener. I don't think think of her never popped into my mind because the poems that I knew were things like oh because because I could not stop for death he kindly stopped for me. They were all along. That line of death and immortality and and I had this image of someone standing at a bedroom window in a white dress and I think that many people share that you know if they know Emily Dickinson they know of the name that image would sort of pop into their mind. That and that you know sorta pulled back hairstyle that you see in the area type and I wanted to say look. This was a person who had this interest. That's totally counter to this idea of this. ghostly hermit yeah you know stuck indoors you you know. And I'm not saying that she wasn't reclusive because she was she. She didn't go out in society in her later years. That's all true. Who but despite that she still garden so you know she got outside anyway? Yeah Yeah and I I want to And I think this is a great time to do it before we get into the details of who she was Gardner. And what we know about that. And and some of the more current research and Interpretive Materials being Put out into the world about this but why does this matter. Marta and I think it's it's actually really fascinating like why isn't important at a variety of levels that we up end this myth of this incredible poet and what inspired her how she took care of herself what she found valuable in the world world. Why is it important that we changed that? From the myth that was created early on almost as a sales pitch and what is actually true about about her to me. It's water the sources of creativity. Now you can still. You can appreciate shape Emily Dickinson. You can study. Emily Dickenson entirely without knowing that she was a gardener. I don't WanNa take away from her. Creative live genius as it stands alone but you know just as when you find out. I'm going to pick like the Beethoven Hoven was deaf right. It sort of puts it in a different context. And you go. Oh you know so. There's someone who had this. You know terrible disability and still be genius in musical composition. So you know. It's that Emily Dickinson had had various sources for her creative output and so the garden was a source for her but it also wasn't different outlet. Right it was a different way. She was expressing herself and the the vast fastness of her genius was she could take these sort of everyday things and distill them into something that speaks. I can speak to all of those. Yeah and I was thinking about this over the weekend in preparation for our conversation today and one of the things that occurred to me is that by by providing this real life woman with a more three dimensional persona sonal in the common understanding and the current understanding. We actually we add a little bit of fresh air and health and three dimensionality -ality to all of the people we might consider creative or artistic or or talented and that to know that she she was actually quite a happy and Inter related person with her family and with her friends through letters through the garden through plants food and community. You add this sense. That creativity can come with great great happiness and health as well not this sort of again mythic.