Omni Daily Crush: "The Jewel Box Garden"
In my very first Omnivoracious post (“Best Way to Make a Garden? Make a Garden Library”), I talked about how I'd populated my garden with plants I'd fallen in love with in books. Truthfully, it was more lust than love that drove me to plant a lot of what now greets me at home, and many of them first gave me sweaty palms in Thomas Hobbs's Jewel Box Garden, his follow-up to Shocking Beauty. (In fact, I'd wager a lot of gardeners first gasped over echeverias--those dazzlingly architectural tender succulents that come in a rainbow of pastels--when they got a look at his Vancouver, B.C., garden's exquisite succulent wall).
Hobbs is a hoot. He characterizes his relationship with plants thus: "Unknowingly, I allowed plants to enslave me as their spokesperson, caretaker and pimp." When I ran into him at a gardening conference last year and mentioned--not quite as casually as I'd planned--that I considered The Jewel Box Garden to be the single biggest influence on my gardening style, he laughed, slung his arm over my shoulders, and declared, "We should live together!"
Sadly, it didn't work out (seems he was kidding--drat!), but I still love to virtually visit his world, particularly the Jewel Box, which hasn't left my bedside bookshelf since the book arrived in early '06. Sometimes--especially if I'm drifting off to sleep and trying to trade visions of spreadsheets and XML for some fantastic plantiness--I just soak in the pictures. Hobbs's flair for garden drama still gives this failed actress shivers. He's passionate about the value of making our wildest imagined worlds real, and his Jewel Box opens with a chapter called "Life, as we dream it could be."
He approaches the entire act of garden-making from the point of view of an artist ("Think of your garden, no matter how small, as an exhibition space"). But for Hobbs, it's not about just decorating. It even goes beyond creating gardens as a restorative oasis from the craziness of our larger lives. He dares us to "look deeper and find the door to your well of creativity. Access the scary side of your personality." He delivers his most practical advice on setting the stage through hardscaping, livening up your soil, and keeping your plants healthy with an aura of magic ("Stop thinking of yourself as a gardener and become an artistic, psychic liaison between plant and animal"). This sentence in particular resonated in my gut like a gong: "As I putter around in the garden, I like to envision one current going out of me and a different current coming in. I deliberately try to connect to something, and that is why my garden stops traffic."
Rereading this marvelous book last night, I realized that Hobbs had not only had a profound influence on my gardening style, but on my entire philosophy of gardening as creative, spiritually significant play with plants. When I'm grooving in the garden, I'm in that state of flow, and I can feel the plants flowing right back. (I have no doubt that's major factor for why my garden not only feels wonderful and keeps me sane, but has started to attract some exciting attention from some of the very authors and photographers whose work has inspired me.)
The Jewel Box Garden is published by Timber Press, a jewel of a publisher based in Portland, Oregon, devoted entirely to marvelous, information-rich books about plants. In the coming weeks, you're going to be hearing a lot more about Timber from me, as I revive my garden library series with a slew of profiles from many of my favorite Timber authors. Lots more fodder for those leafy dreams. --Mari Malcolm