Book Review

Tending the Earth, Mending the Spirit: The Healing Gifts of Gardening

by Connie Goldman and Richard Mahler

Hazelden Information and Educational Services, Center City, MN. 2000.
$14 Trade paperback, 240 pages, ISBN 1-56838-362-2.
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Reviewed by Michael Zarky (9/2000)

This inspirational book tells nothing of the practicabilities of growing plants, which is the predominant subject of the Fruit Gardener. Rather it affirms, through the comments of many people, the strong connection between gardening and some inner spiritual health, which I think most of us feel and experience at least subconsciously.

Connie Goldman has spent decades producing programs and writing for public radio, and Tending the Earth, Mending the Spirit is built upon a compilation of her many interviews on the subject. Her personal commentary seamlessly connects quotes (actually her distillation of her subjects’ remarks) from mostly ordinary people (and a few well-known ones) across the country. Those reflections help remind us of the peace, the connection with natural forces, the sense of well-being that we experience from our work with plants.

Perhaps the essence of the stories is revealed through the original meaning of paradise--the Persian term for "walled garden." Surrounded by a nature tamed somewhat but not paved over, people found their closest approach to heaven on earth.

The many facets of the subject are well grouped into seven chapters: The Soul of the Gardener; Wisdom of the Urban Gardener; Healing in the Garden; The Language of Flowers; Season of a Garden, Seasons of Life; Silence, Solitude, and Solace in the Garden; and finally, Where Do We Grow from Here?, sort of a spur to action in healing the widespread problems of environmental degradation.

The straightforward naivete of the presentation disarms any skepticism one may have--simple, heartfelt testimonials from simple folk relating how a garden or its flowers served as a refuge from the stress of city life, helped them through times of grief, cemented a lifelong love or generally picked up their spirits. At the end we are reminded to spread our experiences to others who live in less verdant surroundings, especially children, whose relationship with the environment can be molded most. After all, if we are to create a paradise on earth, a place where human beings can fulfill their need for peace, happiness and expansion of their inner creativity, it will have to come through our nurturing of nature worldwide.

All CRFG readers presumably already have a strong love for growing trees and other plants. So, do we need this book? I think many of us may not be as articulate about the experiences we get from our gardening work as the authors of Tending the Earth, Mending the Spirit; and so it could serve to introduce to others our own feelings, as well as help us reach further to expand and deepen the inner well-being that we experience in our own gardening.

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