Cover image for My garden (book)
My garden (book)
Kincaid, Jamaica.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1999.
Physical Description:
229 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
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SB455 .K48 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
SB455 .K48 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Novelist Kincaid ponders one of her greatest loves: gardening. She scrutinizes the sources of her inspiration--seed catalogs, the gardener Gertrude Jekyll, and Monet's garden at Giverny--and takes an intimate, playful, and penetrating look at the plants and the people who tend them. Illustrations.

Author Notes

Jamaica Kincaid came to the United States in 1966 as a free-lance writer and is now on staff at the New Yorker. Her first volume of stories, At the Bottom of the River (1983), depicts men and women alienated from each other by conflict, physical separation, or death. The story "My Mother" vividly describes the painful separation between mother and daughter; and the stories in Annie John (1985) clearly reveal that the world of the past cannot be recaptured. Kincaid's poetic use of language and everyday images allows the reader to experience ordinary events with a new and heightened sensitivity. Kincaid is a relatively new writer whose works are beginning to receive critical attention.

(Bowker Author Biography) Jamaica Kincaid, novelist, memoirist, & essayist, was born in St. John's, Antigua. Her books include At the Bottom of the River, Annie John, Lucy, The Autobiography of My Mother, and My Brother, all published by FSG. She lives with her family in Vermont.

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Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Kincaid's exuberant writing style complements her wide-ranging ruminations on gardens and the pursuit of gardening. Plant life is mysterious; specimens that should flower but do not do so raise questions that beg to be answered. Winter is not Kincaid's cup of tea, but the season allows time to enjoy inspirational seed and plant nursery catalogs. Insofar as her involvement in making a garden goes, Kincaid acknowledges both "satisfaction and despair." Readers who garden will recognize those feelings as the predictably contrary states of mind when we cultivate the land. Kincaid tours London's Chelsea Flower Show, Monet's Giverny, and Gertrude Jekyll's Munstead Wood, and she recalls unusual plants and observes the behavior of individuals from the past and the present. Still, Kincaid's views extend beyond the musings found in your usual garden journal. She ponders the history of slavery, the arrogance of the ruling classes, and the fact that ornamental gardens are a luxury, offering a great deal to savor and reflect on. Altogether, a fascinating cornucopia to consort with on nights when the garden is at rest. --Alice Joyce

Publisher's Weekly Review

"I wanted a garden that looked like something I had in my mind's eye, but exactly what that might be I did not know and even now do not know." Celebrated novelist Kincaid (The Autobiography of My Mother) should delight fans of her fiction and connoisseurs of the literature of horticulture with this personable and brightly descriptive, if somewhat rambling, book-length essay, most of it about her own garden in Vermont. Kincaid (who last year edited the anthology My Favorite Plant) shuttles constantly and with ease between the practical, technical difficulties of gardening and the larger meanings it makes available. She asks herself why her new weeping wisterias won't look right on her stone terrace; why her Carpinus betulus Pendula looks so lonely amid poppies and "late-blooming monkshood"; what's wrong with roses, and what's good about Blue Lake green beans; and how to stack up stones. But she also coaxes from her plot of earth more philosophical and psychological questions--inquiries about geography, heritage, marriage, motherhood, power; "how to make a house a home"; whether and for whom "to name is to possess." Kincaid's Antiguan upbringing recurs as a point of comparison, a source of political insights and a focus of nostalgia: "it dawned on me that the garden I was making... resembled a map of the Caribbean and the sea that surrounds it." A botany-centered trip to Kunming, China, gives the last chapter a welcome change of scene. Kincaid, her publisher and their designers have made of her meditations a remarkably attractive physical object, suffused outside and in by shades of green and decorated throughout with illustrations by Jill Fox. (Dec.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Kincaid blends a fertile inner life, botanical and colonial history, gardening lore, and her long gardening experience to create a rich, rewarding read. She contrasts the colonial specimen plants of the botanical garden of St. John's, in her native Antigua, with the wild, unruly garden she's created at her current home in Vermont. This garden, says Kincaid, reflects her passions and interests. "When it dawned on me that the garden I was making... resembled a map of the Caribbean and the sea that surrounds it... I only marveled at the way a garden is for me an exercise in memory, a way of getting to a past that is my own." Kincaid is a hopeful, imaginative gardener who lazily pages through catalogs during the long Vermont winters and plans trips to China, Giverney, and Sissinghurst to further feed her passion for plants. "I wanted a garden that looked like something I had in my mind's eye, but exactly what that might be I did not know. And this must be why: the garden for me is so bound up with words about the garden, with words themselves, that any set idea of the garden, any set picture, is a provocation to me." Is her ideal possible? "I shall never have the garden I have in my mind but that for me is the joy of it; certain things can never be realized so all the more reason to attempt them." (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



MY GARDEN PART I WISTERIA I s there someone to whom I can write for an answer to this question: Why is my Wisteria floribunda, trained into a standard so that it eventually will look like a small tree, blooming in late July, almost August, instead of May, the way wisterias in general are supposed to do? The one that is blooming out of its natural season is blue in color; I have another one similar in every way (or so I believe), except that it should show white flowers; it does not bloom at all, it only throws out long, twining stems, mixing itself up with the canes of the Rosa 'Alchymist,' which is growing not too nearby, mixing itself up with a honeysuckle ( Lonicera ) and even going far away to twine itself around a red rose ( Rosa 'Henry Kelsy'). What to do? I like to ask myself this question, "What to do?" especially when I myself do not have an answer to it. What to do? When it comes up,what to do (slugs are everywhere) and I know a ready-made solution, I feel confident and secure in the world (my world), and again when it comes up, what to do (the wisteria are blooming out of their season), I still feel confident and secure that someone somewhere has had this same perplexing condition (for most certainly I cannot be the first person to have had this experience), and he or she will explain to me the phenomenon that is in front of me: my wisteria grown as a standard (made to look like a tree) is blooming two months after its usual time. Do standards sometimes do that at first, when they are in their youth of being standards, the whole process of going from one form (vining) to another (a shrub, a small tree) being so difficult and unusual; in trying to go from one to the other, does the whole process of holding it all together become so difficult that precise bloom time becomes a casualty, something like appearing at the proper time to have your hair examined by the headmistress: you show up but your hair is not the way it should be, it is not styled in a way that pleases her, it is not styled in a way that she understands. What to do with the wisteria? should I let it go, blooming and blooming, each new bud looking authoritative but also not quite right at all, as if on a dare, a surprise even to itself, looking as if its out-of-seasonness was a modest, tentative query? But what am I to do with this droopy, weepy sadness in the middle of summer, with its color and shape reminding me of mourning, as it does in spring remind me of mourning, but mourning the death of something that happened long ago (winter is dead in spring, and not only that, there is no hint that it will ever come again). Summer does have that color of purple, the monkshoods have that color, and they start blooming in late July, and I have so many different kinds Iam able to have ones that will bloom all the way into October; but monkshoods do not look sad, they look poisonous, which they are, and they look evil or as if they might hold something evil, the way anything bearing the shape of a hood would. I like the monkshoods, but especially I like them because friends whom I love through the garden (Dan Hinkley, Annie Woodhull) grow them and grow them beautifully, and they are always saying how marvelous it is to have that particular kind of color in the garden (deep purple) at that particular time of the year (deep summer, late summer) and I see their point, but deep down I want to know, why can't there be a flower that is as beautiful in shape as the monkshood but in the colors that I like best: yellow, or something in that range. What should I do? What am I to do? The supposed-to-be-white-blooming wisteria has never bloomed. I found two long shoots coming from its rootstock one day while I was weeding nearby and I cut them off with a ferociousness, as if they had actually done something wrong and so now deserved this. Will it ever bloom, I ask myself, and what shall I do if it does not? Will I be happy with its widish form, its abundant leafiness and the absence of flowers, and will I then plant nearby something to go with all that? What should I do? What will I do? And what is midsummer anyway? What should I do with such a thing? I was once in Finland on the twenty-first of June, which was called midsummer, and I stayed up all night with some Finnish people and we went in and out of a sauna and we went in and out of a lake--the sauna was built on its shore--and then we went dancing at a place where there were some people who did not look like the Finnish people who were my hosts and the Finnish people called themGypsies. And the Finnish people kept saying that it was in this way they celebrated midsummer, in and out of a sauna, in and out of a lake, dancing in a dance hall along with other people called Gypsies. The buddleia 'African Queen' is said (by Dan Hinkley in his catalogue) to bloom in midsummer, but it bloomed before the late (and false) blooming wisteria and it bloomed just after the date of midsummer in Finland; the buddleia 'Potter's Purple' is blooming now in late July, but I had bought it because I thought it would bloom in late August to early September; and so what will I do then, when late August arrives (as surely it will, since I like it; but winter I do not like at all and so I am never convinced that it will actually return); to what can I look forward? The aster 'Little Carlow' (surely the most beautiful aster in the world) right now has formed flower heads, and they look as if they will bloom soon, any time now, but they bloom usually in late September to early October and they have a kind of purple/blue that makes you think not of sadness but of wonder: how can such a color be and what is that color exactly? What to do? The sedum, too, was about to bloom in late July, early August, and I am ignoring that the buddleia 'Pink Charm,' which blooms in early September and is planted especially for that, is about to bloom in late July, early August. What to do? How agitated I am when I am in the garden, and how happy I am to be so agitated. How vexed I often am when I am in the garden, and how happy I am to be so vexed. What to do? Nothing works just the way I thought it would, nothing looks just the way I had imagined it, and when sometimes it does look like what I had imagined (and this, thank God, is rare) I am startled that my imagination is so ordinary. Why are those wonderful weeping wisterias (or so they looked in a catalogue:wonderful, inviting, even perfect) not fitting in the way I had imagined them, on opposite sides of a stone terrace made up of a patchwork of native Vermont stone? I had not yet understood and also had not yet been able to afford incorporating the element of water in my garden. I could not afford a pond, I could not understand exactly where a pond ought to go in the general arrangement of things. I do not even like a pond, really. When I was a child and living in another part of the world, the opposite of the part of the world in which I now live (and have made a garden), I knew ponds, small, really small bodies of water that had formed naturally (I knew of no human hand that had forced them to be that way), and they were not benign in their beauty: they held flowers, pond lilies, and the pond lilies bore a fruit that when roasted was very sweet, and to harvest the fruit of the lilies in the first place was very dangerous, for almost nobody who loved the taste of them (children) could swim, and so attempts to collect the fruit of pond lilies were dangerous; I believe I can remember people who died (children) trying to reach these pond lilies, but perhaps no such thing happened, perhaps I was only afraid that such a thing would happen; perhaps I only thought if I tried to reap the fruit of pond lilies I would die. I have eaten the fruit of pond lilies, they were delicious, but I can't remember what they tasted like, only that they were delicious and that they were delicious, and that no matter that I can't remember exactly what they tasted like, they were delicious again. In my garden there ought to be a pond. All gardens, all gardens with serious intention (but what could that mean) ought to have water as a feature. My garden has no serious intention, my garden has only series of doubts upon series of doubts. What to do about the wisteriablooming out of turn (turn being the same as season)? And then just now I remember that I saw the Lycoris squamigera blooming also, and just nearby the (by now) strange wisteria, in late July, and it was at the foot of the wisteria; but it looked sickly, its bare stalk was stooped over, limp, its head of flowers opening almost, and then not at all. What to do? The lycoris had such a healthy flourish of green leaves resembling a headmaster's strap first thing on a school morning, before it had met the palm of a hand or a buttocks (not bare buttocks, they were shielded by khaki), in the spring, so abundant were they, that they made me worry about the ability of the Anemone pulsatilla , which I had so desperately pursued (I loved the blooms, I loved what came after, the seed heads, which perhaps can be appreciated only if you like the things that come after, just that, the mess that comes after the thing you have just enjoyed). And still what to do? Whom should I ask what to do? Is there a person to whom I could ask such a question and would that person have an answer that would make sense to me in a rational way (in the way even I have come to accept things as rational), and would that person be able to make the rational way imbued with awe and not so much with the practical; I know the practical, it will keep you breathing; awe, on the other hand, is what makes you (me) want to keep living. But what to do? That year of the wisteria behaving not in its usual way, not in the way I had expected it to behave when I bought it based on its firm illustrious description in a catalogue, other events occurred. And so what to do? One afternoon, a proper afternoon, the sun was unobscured in its correct place in the sky, a fox emerged from my woodland (and it is my woodland, for I carved it out of the chaos of the wood and bramble and made it up so that it seemed like the chaos of the wood and bramble but carefully, willfully, eliminating the parts of a wood and bramble that do not please me, which is to say a part of wood and bramble that I do not yet understand). I had never seen a fox so close by at that time of day; I was startled (really, I was afraid of seeing something so outside my everyday in the middle of my everyday), I screamed; it is possible I said, "It's a fox!" The other people who were in the house (the housekeeper Mary Jean and Vrinda) came out of the house and saw it also. When the fox saw us looking at him or her (we could not tell if it was a male looking for a spouse or a mother looking for nourishment), it just stood there in the shadow of the hedge (a not-accounted-for, yet welcome Euonymus alatus ) looking at us, and perhaps it was afraid of our presence and perhaps it was curious about our presence, having observed us at times when we were not aware of it. The fox stood there, perhaps in the thrall of my shriek, perhaps never having heard such a thing as a shriek coming from the species to which I belong (I believe I am in the human species, I am mostly ambivalent about this, but when I saw the fox I hoped my shriek sounded like something familiar to the fox, something human). What to do when the fox looked at me as if he was interested in me in just the way I was interested in him (who is he, what is he doing standing there just a few steps from my front door, my front door being just a stone's throw from where he/she might be expected to make a den). The fox, after looking at me (for a while, I suppose, though what is a while really?), walked off in that stylish way of all beings who are confident that the ground on which they put their feet will remain in place, will remain just where they expect the ground to be. The fox skipped through the soft fruit garden, that section of the garden that I have (it was a whim) devoted to fruits whose pits can be consumed whole with a benefit that Adele Davis (she is now dead) might have approved. What to do about the fox? The wisteria at the moment the fox appeared was not on my mind. The fox, seen in the shade of the euonymus, was gray in color, its coat looking like an ornament, a collar of the coat of someone who could afford such a thing, or a part of the handbag of someone who could afford such a thing, or a spectacle on the wall of someone who could afford such a thing and then not have the good sense to say no to it; when it (the fox) gallivanted into the part of the garden that was not in the shade, the part of the garden that was full of sun, he wasn't gray at all, his entire coat looked asif someone had just put a light to it, as if he had just been set on fire. The fox did not run away from me, only advanced away from me as I tentatively went forward. The way he would run away from me with his head turned toward me, watching me behind him as he propelled himself forward, was frightening: I cannot do that. And then he disappeared into another part of the wild and I could not follow. What to do about the fox? For that spring, as I looked worriedly at the wisteria, seeing the little nubs along the drooping stems grow fattish and then burst open into little shoots of green, I saw a small round thing hopping behind some rosebushes ( Rosa 'Stanwell Perpetual') and then disappear behind some pots in which I meant to grow sweet peas. The small round thing moved faster than a chipmunk, did not have a long tail, and so was more attractive than a rat; it emerged from behind the pots slowly, peeking, and then came out altogether and stared at me. It was a baby rabbit, and I could see (I felt I could see, I thought I could see) that he was not familiar with danger; he was not malicious and never (as far as I could see) ate anything that was of any value (ornamental or otherwise) to me; he was a pest only because sometimes, when I did not expect him, he would suddenly hop into my view, startling me out of some worry or other (I mostly worry in the garden, I am mostly vexed in the garden). His mother must have worried about him, because one day I saw her (I felt it was his mother, I thought it was his mother) looking for him. I saw them once emerging from the woodland part of the garden, I saw them again in the company of some other rabbits, and I could tell them apart from the other rabbits because none of the others were as big as the mother or as small as he. And then I didn't see them anymore and never even thought of them anymore, until that day I saw the foxemerge from the woodland. It still remains that I never see them anymore, but it does not remain so that I never think of them anymore. I thought of them just an hour ago, when I put three lobsters alive in a pot of boiling water, and it is possible that I will think of them tomorrow when I am eating the lobsters sometime during the day. Will the shells from the lobster be good for the compost? I will look it up in a book, I have a book that tells me what to do with everything in the garden, and sometimes I take its advice and sometimes I do not; sometimes I do what suits me, sometimes I do in the garden just whatever I please. And what to do? For this summer was like no other and this summer was like all the others. I never had wisteria before; in any case, I had never had wisteria bloom in summer before, I had never heard of it. In this summer of the blooming wisteria the tomatoes (all heirlooms) yielded not abundantly, but they always do that--yielding not abundantly--and only when I taste them ('Prudens Purple,' 'Striped German,' 'Green Zebra,' 'Radiator Charlie') do I forget all complaints, only when I visit other people who, at the end of the season, have tomatoes lined up on newspaper all over their floors, tomatoes with no attribute other than "I grew them myself." This summer (and it is now that summer) I reaped a planting of peas ('British Knight') and then shortly after planted another batch (and that was a success also), and the cucumbers yielded more than I could use, but the potatoes, the early ones, the late ones, all got a blight and that is the way of potatoes in my vegetable garden, wherever I plant them, whatever their time of maturity, they get a blight, something or other that makes them not attractive if you see them just lying in a wicker basket, just picked, but they are delicious anyway when boiled and tossed in butter andparsley. The beets grew slowly, the carrots grew slowly, it rained too much and then it did not rain enough. In the holding bed a young Magnolia ashei bloomed, one large white fragrant flower sitting in the middle of some larger leaves, but I noticed it only because ... because, well, of how I wanted the wisteria to bloom; I had such a picture of it, the wisteria, blooming in spring with late bulbs, and the sound of that bird that is going even farther north, the sound that bird makes is sweet and piercing, as if pleasure could also be pain (as if pleasure is not also pain), the blue of the wisteria (blooming now, or then) on one side of the patio, its white counterpart on the other, with an underplanting of yellow tulips ('Mrs. J. T. Scheepers') and an almost full-blooming Fothergilla gardenii , and Frittillaria persica nearby. And when I saw the Magnolia ashei unexpectedly blooming, it made me long for the wisteria, and I wondered if I had done something wrong (horticulturally, though on the whole I never wonder, I know for certain I have done something wrong); but M. ashei blooms at a very young age; a book I have, entirely devoted to magnolias, The World of Magnolias by Dorothy J. Callaway, tells me so. That summer, this summer! The wisteria came into bloom just at that moment in the summer, in the garden, when I could not imagine that there could be such a thing as winter, when the fact of winter seems amusing, like something malicious (short of death) happening to someone I dislike in an irrational way. Oh, winter, what is it, anyway? What is it really, this thing where the air is cold, the trees are bare, and all beings, human or otherwise, look hungry, look as if there is not enough of anything and there never will be. But just then, just now (that summer, this summer! when the wisteria was blooming out of turn), the leaves of the trees had reached a green beyond whichthey could not go, they were only going to be green, certainly so, and the lawn would no longer be lush with grass, only untidy and overgrown and need cutting, and, and ... Oh, the deliciousness of complaining about nothing of any consequence and that such a thing should be the case in a garden: because, (again) that wisteria blooming now (or then) so close to the buddleia, which in turn is not too far from the Phlox paniculata 'Norh Leigh,' which is also somehow in the middle of the Phlox paniculata 'David,' is all pleasing to my eye, as I was looking at it then (now); at that moment of the wisteria, turning left or right (counterclockwise or clockwise), this is what I could see in front of me, this is what might be the zenith of summer in this (my) garden: the perennial pea ( Lathyrus latifolius ) in bloom in its guzzling way (eating up all the space around it and slightly beyond and then really beyond that); some cultivars of Lobelia siphilitica (bought from Dan Hinkley because I was so taken by his description, and I remain open to seeing this lobelia just the way Dan described it) on the verge of blooming; an accidental planting combination of Platycodon grandi-florus blue and pink; a large amount of a tall monkshood that I did not stake and so it has bent over and mingled with the perennial pea; and the perennial pea, which has sent up a set of only white blooms into the dry brown thing that had been the huge bloom of Crambe cordifolia (and how perfect, for I could never have done this: white replacing white on purpose); and the leaves on the vine of the Clematis paniculata , its pleasingly smelly blooms to come in early September (I think, in this the summer of the strange blooming wisteria); the very later blooming monkshood, the fading delphiniums (some of them from Dan Hinkley's 'Melissa's Hope' strain, some from Bob Stewart's recommended McClegnan's Hybrids), the Malva ( alcea and moschata ), which I did not like and now (then) feel as if I cannot live without and look at the clumps in other people's gardens with envy and obligatory admiration; the Codonopsis clematidea demanding that you bend over--bow--to see them if you want to do that--see them, they are worth that. And while still looking, my head going from right to left, I cross the pathway that divides this part of the garden (the pathway is a convenience), and on the other side of the pathway is pure hideousness, some cup plants, some plume poppies, and there are other things (a grouping of yellow hollyhocks, yellow trumpet lilies, yellow and close-to-yellow blooming kniphofia, but I like them); a much treasured tree tobacco plant ( Nicotiana glauca , I believe, and not Nicotiana tomentosa , though I can't tell the difference and don't really care to); a banana tree ( Musa 'Lord Cavendish') growing in a pot and looking happy amid a background of plants alien to it (evergreens, the monkshood); two pots holding the dark red, glossy-leaved dahlia 'Bishop of Llandaff' (gotten from Dan H.), the yellow-flowering buddleia; the ever-blooming rose 'Pristine'; the once-blooming roses 'Henry Kelsey' and 'Alchymist,' and the, for me, sometimes blooming 'Stanwell Perpetual'; two clematis of Himalayan origin from Dan H. (I cannot remember their names, only that he was so enthusiastic about their good qualities, and I can't remember those, only that I like them very much and do not know any other gardeners who cultivate them); the white wisteria, which did not bloom and so did not cause me any disturbance at all (it just threw out many vines, which I assume will grow into limbs, and then from there will come stems and on them ... flowers?); and then the Lilium orientalis 'Black Beauty,' which is not black at all, but how I long for it to be that, black--a flower that is the color black, black like the night or like something that is instantly recognizablyblack is so rare that in the garden, in a flower, I long for it; and then, in this episode, in this part of the garden, I stop where the agapanthus 'Blue,' bred by the great Eric Smith, is in full bloom in a clay pot. How I love Eric Smith, especially since I know him only in the most impersonal of ways; I do not know if he preferred meat to vegetables or wool to cotton, I only know that most small-leaved blue hostas ('Halcyon' especially) are the product of his interests and efforts. Oh, how I like the rush of things, the thickness of things, everything condensed as it is happening, long after it has happened, so that any attempt to understand it will become like an unraveling of a large piece of cloth that had been laid flat and framed and placed as a hanging on a wall and, even then, expected to stand for something. In this summer, in that summer, evenings would come on, and the birds would begin their annoying, or frightful (if I was in that mood), or cheerful (if I was in that mood), or simply birdlike noise, if I was in a mood to understand that a bird was often, itself, birdlike. There was a woodpecker, and one day while marveling or muddling (they were the same, really) over the wisteria, I heard its loud hammering and looked up and saw it picking away with its beak at the eave of my house. I love especially to sleep in the mornings until when the sun is almost in the middle of the sky, not quite, just almost, and sometimes, when I was asleep and in the middle of a most enjoyable dream, I would be awakened by that hammering, not the sound of the hammering of a carpenter who was repairing my wall, but a hammering all the same. A man who is not a carpenter makes a monthly visit to my house, and his visit has to do with controlling the presence of rodents inside the house (this is only a way of saying that he makes sure that rodents donot live inside my house and that if they try to live inside my house they will soon die). When this man, while looking at my house to see the places a rodent might find convenient to enter, saw the holes on the outside of my house left by the hammering of the woodpecker, he said to me, There are insects living in and eating up your house. What should I do? I said to him, and he said something, only now I have on purpose forgotten, for whenever I find a bird dead not far from my house, and in the garden, I wonder if it is because they ate the insects who were eating my house. I found the woodpecker dead in the yellow border; I found robins dead not far from the yellow border. What to do? I asked myself. And just when I was really perplexed, and engaged in an argument with myself about my own fears and my responsibility to others (birds, at that!), another woodpecker appeared and was hammering away at the house, and one day was so loud that I could not concentrate on my reading (I was reading Jeremiah, the Hebrew prophet). And then I found the broken shell of a robin egg in the dwarf evergreen beds, and something else, a bird whose name I did not know, built a nest just behind the red shutters of the window, and laid eggs there and the mother was very discreet, but her children were a perfect nuisance, especially at half past five in the morning. And in that summer, this summer, in which the wisteria bloomed out of turn, it first rained too much, and then it did not rain enough, and then it rained too much again, and then it did not rain again, just not rain again, really. It was not a drought, and by a drought I mean absence of rain and at the same time a heat that purposely (maliciously) reaches deep into the soil and removes as much moisture as it can find, enough moisture to make me worry and then fret and then be vexed. The irritation to be found in the garden, the pleasure in it--for it is not an irritation like the kind met when putting on a favorite dress after a little while and then finding that the buttons at the waist, or the ones that are supposed to secure the opening across the chest or the ones that are supposed to secure the opening at a vulnerable part in the back, are missing or simply won't go anywhere near the buttonhole--the irritation to be found in the garden will not lead to any loss of face; it will only lead to this question: What to do? and the happiness to be found in that! The yellow border does not work; the aurelian lilies are too, are too ... something, and the something is not quite right for the yellow border, they hang oddly; I have nothing in bloom at the same time to give them proper company. The kniphofia is in bloom at the same time as they (the trumpets are), but the kniphofia is not a good enough counterpart, the kniphofia should not be so near to the trumpet lilies. The yellow hollyhocks ( Alcea ficifolia ) are good towering above the aurelian lilies, but I do not have enough of them, for a reason (I could not afford to buy as many as I needed, or as many as I wanted) I always find humiliating: a lack of money. I do not like money, I only love the ability to dispose of it, and sometimes my disposing of it leads to some comfort for others, but mostly my disposing of money leads to much disappointment for me; for with me satisfaction is elusive (and so worth pursuing); for example, the horrible cup plant ( Rudheckia maxima ) with its blooms the color of a universal yellow (and sometimes the universal is reassuring and uplifting and inspiring, and then again sometimes the universal is not, just not so at all). And in that summer, this summer! I had been traipsing around, tramping around in the garden,looking at the failed yellow border (looking at how I had misunderstood the shapes and the colors of some things, the presence of some things, the effect of all of them making a whole), I was in despair (but again, of the pleasurable kind, the kind that everyone living in the area of the world that starts in the Sudan and ends in southern Africa ought to have, just to begin with). And in this traipsing up and down with a gait that I must say has its own integrity (it certainly was outside and beyond the one I once thought proper when wearing a Brownie uniform, when expecting to meet someone who at the moment of their being born was better than I), I met another of my misunderstandings: the Carpinus betulus 'Pendula' was doing very nicely, thriving in its spot, which is in the middle of the middle of the bed I have called 'Hispaniola'; but I have surrounded this beautiful specimen, with its stout trunk like a strong backbone, I have surrounded this beautiful specimen, with its long, weeping branches and corded leaves, with thalictrum and Scabiosa ochroleuca and Filipendula 'Venusta' and plume poppy and some lobelia (ordinary blue) and some turtlehead (pink) and some Aster tataricus and more late-blooming monkshood and some Eryngium yuccifolium and the poor thing, the Carpinus betulus 'Pendula,' that is, looked as if it had found itself orphaned and in care of people who could not love it in the way it had thought appropriate in which to be loved. I moved the Scabiosa ochroleuca into the yellow bed--it is yellowish and tall and airy and wants to go everywhere it feels will be susceptible to its presence (I am reminded of myself, except for the yellowish part). Next year, next season, in the summers to come (I imagine myself in the summers to come, and I believe in my continued existence in the summers to come far less than I believe in thefact that winter will come again), I imagine it airy, that is, moving in an undesperate way, in front of the climbing roses ( R. filipes 'Kiftsgate,' 'Paul's Himalayan Musk,' and some other roses whose names I cannot recall and whose records of purchase I have misplaced), replacing the rudbeckia, making the kniphofia appear desirable ("How I should like to have those," a friend of mine will say), making the hollyhocks appear as if they were a new idea, giving the planting across the walkway (perennial pea, lobelia, delphinium, monkshood, platycodon, Codonopsis clematidea , the autumn-blooming clematis that had attached itself to the long-past large blooming heads of Crambe cordi-folia , and then in early autumn will come small white star-shaped flowers smelling like honey or something like that, something that made you want to eat it or bathe in it). The Scabiosa ochroleuca would bring all this, my vision of that area of the garden to rest, the sort of rest that leads to satisfaction, the sort of satisfaction that leads to reflection and contentment (even if the contentment is disturbing, but it is the sort of contentment that leads to disturbance, the disturbance in the mind). The Scabiosa ochroleuca comes from east and south of Europe and in its Scabiosa ochroleuca self, I am sure it had not imagined my garden and the scheme I had in mind: it would brighten the hollyhocks (which were great by themselves without brightening but why not that--brightening, if only just to agree or disagree, brightening? not brightening?). I moved the Scabiosa ochroleuca , it immediately withered, starting from its top stem all the way to the ground. Next year (that summer, this summer!), when I see the results of my handiwork, the results of my vexations, I feel sure I will be irritated with the joy of success or deeply vexed by the results of my miscalculation. Copyright © 1999 by Jamaica Kincaid Excerpted from My Garden by Jamaica Kincaid, J. Kincaid All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

My Garden (Book)
I Wisteriap. 11
The Housep. 29
The Season Pastp. 49
Readingp. 59
The Garden in Winterp. 65
Earthly Delightsp. 77
More Readingp. 86
II An Order to a Fruit Nursery Through the Mailp. 98
The Old Suitcasep. 102
To Name Is to Possessp. 114
Monet's Gardenp. 125
What Joseph Banks Wroughtp. 132
The Glasshousep. 143
In Historyp. 153
III A Letter to Dan Hinkley and Robert Jones, the Proprietors of Heronswood Nurseryp. 169
Springp. 171
Where to Begin?p. 179
Plant Hunting in Chinap. 188
The Garden I Have in Mindp. 216
The Garden in Edenp. 221