Leaping Off of the Fence

Update: The winner is Manju. Congrats!

Another post was intended for today, but in light of a recent (and disturbing) disparately located online thread that suggests that garden writers should stick to sunshine and roses and leave out the “negative” stuff, I have decided to switch gears and reintroduce a book I have discussed at length in the past, “My Garden (Book)” by Jamaica Kincaid.

Ms. Kincaid is a fierce writer, one of a handful whose words and courage I turn to when my footing has slipped and I need some examples of women who know how to speak their mind. My god, that woman speaks her mind with such power and force and nary a sign of apology. I need to know, and read about these women. Women who do not tow the line. The ones who are not happy rolling over, or painfully etching away at their character in order to serve the status quo. I want to tackle my fears in the best way that I can, with all the resolve I can forge, and walk into those scary places with them, behind them, beside them, wherever, as long as it is not chained in silence to a white picket fence by fear. Gardening is a part of human culture. We are fallible, messy, beautiful, miserable, and everything under the sun. It only stands to reason that the cultures we create carry all of us within them, for better and for worse. To say that one should stick to gardening is saying that one should write about everything and anything related to growing plants, because everything that is in us is in it.

That Jamaica Kincaid is also an avid gardener who can lovingly and tenderly walk that line between both sides of the spectrum and everything in between is a testament to her skill as a writer. She can express the obsessive horticultural longings and compulsions us plantaholics share, while also delving deep into the depths of gardening’s not-so-pretty side, especially as it relates to human history.

I recently came across a copy of her book “My Garden (Book)” and since I love it so much, decided to buy it to share as a giveaway to an interested reader. To be entered feel free to share some of your own favourite women writers (gardening or otherwise) or simply leave a comment expressing your interest to be entered. I’ll pick a name at random on Tuesday, Sept 6.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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68 thoughts on “Leaping Off of the Fence

  1. This sounds like a great book! I have to admit, I probably do not read ENOUGH books written by great women who say what is really on their minds. It is a great way to approach life, imho. Love to be entered into the drawing! :-)

  2. My go to books about strong women are all pretty old.

    I like Jane Eyre, Emily of New Moon and The Temple of My Familiar.

    I have copies of Emily and Jane Eyre if you ever want to borrow.

  3. Gayla,
    I hope you won’t ever let the idea of what you should or shouldn’t write dictate your posts here. I think as long as it comes from your heart — you offer inspiration to those of us who read your words. I think of how many spiritual traditions teach that the divine isn’t an entity outside of us, it is also within us. Women writers who speak their minds are not outside of you, but in you as well. For me, it has been a joy to read You Grow Girl and your books…because there you are, a woman in an urban environment (my favorite), living simply and following your passion. Imagine where this world would go if more of us could realize that it is within us to grow – plants, and ourselves.

    As for amazing women writers…I can never go wrong with bell hooks. I especially recommend, “All About Love: New Visions” and another very personal book, “belonging.”

    Have a great Thursday. And please feel free to send any cooler weather or rain to the desert. It looks like my fall/winter planting season might be delayed by a month (or more) due to over 3 weeks of unseasonal hot weather! Forecasts say we’ll not see a real break from 108-110 for still over a week. Whew.

  4. Well, I’m intrigued. Sounds like something I’ll be looking to add to my massive “to read” pile one way or another!

  5. I’ll definitely have to check out Jamaica Kincaid’s book. I know you’ve mentioned her in the past, too.

    Also, I second Cherie Priest. She’s wonderful.

    Another female author I like a lot is Caitlin R. Kiernan. I don’t know that she’s necessarily “empowering” (At least not in any straightforward way) but there’s a lot of truth and honesty in her fiction that I appreciate very much. I love how she uses language and the characters she creates, and the stories she tells.

  6. Mir: I’ve read Jean Rhys “Wide Sargasso Sea” several times and keep meaning to get to Jane Eyre. Must read.

    Melissa: I don’t. But I do struggle with my own internal fears that rise and fall like waves depending on a variety of factory. I aim to push through them but I can’t say I am yet as successful as I would like to be. The struggle continues.

    I am a big bell hooks fan, including the two you mentioned. Both came at the perfect time for me. I have read “All About Love” countless times. My copy is dog-eared and underlined. I’ve bought it for others, too!

    It’s been getting chilly here quicker than I’d like. I would happily parcel a little bit off.

    Donna: That quote was in my head a lot over the last day.

  7. Ginger: That there is truth and honesty in her work is empowering. Empowerment isn’t just waving a flag and cheering, it is about being whole.

  8. Hi Gayla – I just wanted to drop a note to say how much I love your blog, your web site and your books. You have really changed gardening for me – from something overwhelming that I was afraid to do, to something I feel totally empowered and enthused to do. I experience the outdoors differently because of gardening and I especially experience food differently. So thank you and keep at it!

  9. Jodi: OMG! “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think” is kind of perfect in this context. Thanks for the reminder!

    AmyE: Thank you. I am humbled and a little teary reading that. Gardening is transformative.

  10. Gayla, I love your blog, and all your adventures as a professional garden writer… But this is YOUR space, and what you write here isn’t dictated by an editor. We – your readers – think of you as a friend, and friends like you, warts and all. Don’t edit yourself. Just write…

    Oh, and my vote goes to Barbara Kingsolver…’Prodigal Summer’ is my favorite!

  11. If you want to encounter strong feminist writing you should study literature with the OU – well there was definitely a leaning that way when I did my degree 10 years ago.

    One of my favourites is Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and I also love The Colour Purple.

    Would love to win the book

  12. The first writer that comes to mind is Kameron Hurley – she is an hard sci-fi writer whom I recently discovered and fell (literarily) in love with, despite her ultrafem leanings. Her characters are super strong and super flawed – excellent. Others that come to mind are Heidi Swanson and, of most recently speaking-her-mind, Shauna Ahern. Both of them, especially Shauna, always have a way of making me feel enlightened and welcomed.

  13. Interesting. Inspirational writing is very hard to come by sometimes and stuff that is written with a gardening tilt is definitely worth a investigation…

  14. I admire your bravery for going to those dark places, can’t have light with the darkness

    I love Virginia Woolf

  15. I love your honesty and humor. I was drawn to your books & blog because you are different and stand apart from the rest. I hope you continue to write about what makes you passionate because it shows up in your writing and it’s refreshing.

    I turn to Bell Hooks for inspiration.

  16. I am currently in need of inspiration and will be looking into Kincaid’s writing, as well as others mentioned. Thanks!

  17. Ok. This comment itself is an exercise in saying how I feel despite how it will be perceived. AKA: the “powerful woman writer” who came to mind for me is Elizabeth Gilbert. I feel like some ppl might laugh at that. Ok, fine, go ahead. Anyway, in Eat Prey Love when she’s trying to really make changes in her life, she’d say to herself “I am not going to do [insert self destructive action here] ANYMORE.” I probably perceived an overstated level of power in this phrase due to the fact that I listened to the audio book, which Liz reads herself, and in which she says this phrase with such simultaneous calm and conviction… So, whether Liz herself means this phrase to be full of power or not, I love it. Its like… she’s showing the courage to stand up to herself, which I find is sometimes HARDER than standing up to other people. “Yourself” knows your own weaknesses and can therefore be the hardest enemy to stand up to. Disclaimer: the movie didn’t capture this IMO.

  18. I have found strength through finaly admiting to myself what I truly believe (or don’t believe) and by standing for my personal integrity in situations where I may have been afraid to offend others in the past. Jill Conner Browne is a favorite empowering writer and funny as hell.

  19. I have it, already–and love it. Just wanted to say how happy it makes me that you’re giving away a copy of the book and praising Ms. Kincaid, in all her brilliance.

    Finally, to add to your “women who…” adages, one of my favorite Alice Walker poems advises women to “be nobody’s darling.” Since feeling the sentiment so strongly,I’ve prided myself on being a woman who lives to be her own darling.

  20. I read Natalie Goldberg’s ‘Writing Down the Bones’ when I was 21 and it changed the trajectory of my life by giving me permission to be who I am. Coming from an extremely conservative, religious family with 6 brothers, there was no room for a female voice or an acknowledgement of equality. I waited silently for years. I knew one day that I would bust out and never look back, but this book gave me the tool to find my voice and the permission to use it. Nearly 20 years later, the electrification of my life that began on the day I picked this book up is still with me.

    I highly recommend it.

  21. Sounds like a great book. Since I read a lot of sci-fi/fantasy, some of my favourite women authors are in that genre (which is largely dominated by men). Angela Carter & C. J. Cherryh are right up there.

  22. Jessica: There is no shame in that. A lot of people have enjoyed her books and gained strength from her words. I know it was a typo but your misspelling of “pray” gave me a chuckle. Very different meaning!

    T. Hinton: I really like that phrase. And I am also a fan of Alice Walker.

    Andrea: I’m going to look that book up right now.

  23. Love that book, Gayla. I think of Jamaica Kincaid when wandering around saying “What to do? What to do?”
    but my favorite quote is, “I have really learned this as a gardener: listen to everyone and then grow the things you love. I have learned as much through my own conceitedness and from my own mistakes as I have from all the great gardeners I have met.”

    If only I had the guts to follow her lead.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  24. have enjoyed the blog and many of the suggestions on the comments. Would like to throw a few women poets into the mix, always inspirational for me on gardening, growing and life: alice walker; carol ann duffy; u a fanthorpe; adrienne rich; fleur adcock… And for a great collection, the thunder mutters, 101 poems for the planet ed. by alice oswald.

  25. I like woman comic writers because it’s an art mostly dominated by men and they have to be very good just to get noticed. Anne Simon, Lucy Knisley, Danielle Corsetto, Dylan Meconis, Kate Beaton, Meredith Gran are all worth exploring.

  26. At the risk of sounding totally cliche: I do like Jane Austen (particularly “Pride & Prejudice”). Some of my other favorites: Toni Morrison, Sylvia Plath (“The Bell Jar” rocked my world the first time I read it), Flannery O’Connor and I really enjoyed “The Red Tent” by Anita Diamant.

  27. this organic life by joan dye gussow;
    barbara kingsolver, esp animal, vegetable miracle;
    and sandra steingrabber, esp having faith: an ecologists journey to motherhood.
    just thinking about their books makes me all giddy!

  28. Anything by Margaret Atwood! One of my favs. is “Surfacing” or her newer series “The Year of the Flood”.

  29. I would like to be entered. It sounds like an interesting book, and I haven’t read many books by strong women since college.

  30. I’m intrigued by the book, and if I don’t win this copy, I’m sure I’ll pick it up eventually. :)

    I love the books by the Bronte sisters, including Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, etc etc. When read, their beautiful stories and strong female characters combine with what I know about their personal trials and create this really empowering message. It’s something that you can turn over in your mind later, and wonder (among other emotions) where they got their strength.

  31. For my author nomination: Isabelle Allende. Tyranny, rebellion, epic journeys, slavery, murder, glory, blood, grief, sex, and death, yet somehow there is also love, tenderness, babies, hope, and joy, too. She also wrote “Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses” which is a brilliant literary aprhodisiac cookbook.

    My best quote ever is a little zen saying: You cannot give someone a drink of water out of an empty cup.

  32. Author nomination: Jean Auel (the clan of the cave bear series). Definitely a strong voice…the weaving of medicinal plant use into the novel is a nice touch : )

  33. Barbara Kingsolver has been mentioned already but I have to shout praise for her anyway. Prodigal Summer and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle are dynamite for sure -the former being poetry and science and sex (the butterfly/pollinator kind not the romance novel kind); the latter is an earnest, ecstatic vote of confidence in nature. But if we’re talking about speaking your mind, I can’t think of a better book than Small Wonder, a book of essays coincidentally published after 9/11. I read them as a teenager and still paraphrase them to myself in my journals to bolster up my abilities to assert myself. The woman is fierce. She’s a must-read for anyone that’s reading your blog!

  34. Sounds like a great read, definitely on my list! And hopefully on my shelf, next to Annie Dillard whose writing I love.

  35. my current favorite is dr. clarissa pinkola estes. I listen to her on soundstrue.com – The Dangerous Old Woman is excellent. I know you are not as old as I am, but her message is for all ages. hope you check it out, Laura

  36. Love this post – read it after reading the Twitter feed – so all makes more sense now.

    As for amazing women writers, who know how to cut through it all – Joan Didion. A brave, fierce, strong and open writer (and human).

  37. ‘My Garden (Book)’ sounds incredible! I would be so delighted to receive a copy. I LOVED Jamaica Kincaid’s book ‘A Small Place’ and I made a woodcut inspired by one of the passages. There are a trillion strong women whose writings I adore. Here are a few. Carson McCullers. Audre Lorde. June Jordan. Barbara Kingsolver. Annie Dillard. Toni Morrison. Cherrie Moraga. Assata Shakur. Meena Alexander. Gloria Anzaldua. Toni Cade Bambara. Rosa Luxemburg. Emma Goldman. Marge Piercy. Adrienne Rich. Alice Walker. Chrystos. Suzan Lori Parks. Pat Parker.

  38. I’m not as familiar with female garden writers, but my one of my all time favorite nature writers is Annie Dillard. Oh my goodness, that woman can use words like no one else. And Terry Tempest Williams makes me feel like the earth and I are connected to an inspirational degree. Both women are extremely strong and their passion for the environment unmatched. Love their work.

    This book looks awesome. :)

  39. I’m learning to establish my own urban garden, and your book has been a godsend! Thank you for your practical, inspiring advice and your passion for plants!

  40. What a great post, not only for your recommendation, but the list generated in your comments. Great to have a list of authors and books to explore. A few of my favorites include Barbara Kingsolver, Arundhati Roy, and Isabel Allende. They’ve been mentioned, but I love ‘em.
    Thanks!

  41. Good question. Thanks for having an interesting give-away that’s not just the latest marketing blitz. Yet another reason you’re such a beloved garden writer. I am listening to Oryx & Crake on audio book right now so I can only think about Margaret Atwood and the way she says deep, huge things through stories. I love the feminist sci-fi greats, like Octavia Butler & Ursula Le Guin. I love Lynda Barry and especially the stuff she’s been putting out lately about the creative process and the relationship to mental health (her two books – What It Is and Picture This! are amazing). I like Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, and even though I’ve never read anything else she wrote, she’s a perennial favorite of mine. Also, Shirley Jackson!! How is Shirley Jackson so great?!? I like Sue Hubbell, although she’s more of a nature writer than a garden writer. I like Linda Chalker-Scott and how she’s so science-minded and not afraid to call people out on gardening myths and misinformation.

    I could go on forever about my favorite lady authors. I’m going to go see if my public library has a copy of that Jamaica Kincaid book since you’ve mentioned it a few times.

  42. I just found your site and love it, what amazing gardens. I am very new to gardening but loving it and having a great time. In Australia most of us have some kind of backyard which when you consider the rest of the world is a real privilege.

    My favorite book by a strong women is “ministry at the margins” by Cheryl J. Saunders. a quote from that book “…three specific virtues: the courage to confront event the most deeply entrenched evils of society, the wisdom to develop constructive alternatives and strategies to rectify past injustices and promote a just future, and the compassion to bring about reconciliation and human wholeness wherever possible”

    Plus I love the Brontes and Jane Austin. I probably missed your give away book and anyway I’m in Australia so a bit far away, but I wanted to say that your story touched me and I loved what you have accomplished. As strong women we must never be afraid to speak the truth in love. This is your space it’s up to you what you write about.

  43. I need to find the strength in women and in nature again.
    I’m losing it.

    I really like Margaret Atwood, shes a strong woman.

  44. I recently finished Brother Gardeners by Andrea Wulf. I’m looking forward to Founding Gardeners once I whittle down some of my current backlog of books.

  45. We all appreciate every gardening writer that writes with a real voice and honesty. It tells a human story we can all relate to, not a polished, fake veneer.

  46. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy is one of my top three reads of all time (and I’ve read alot!), and you’d never believe it’s her first novel. Controversy, class conflict, gender conflict, it goes on.

  47. Is it too late to enter? I’ve been holding my own against some pretty dire life circumstances over the past 35 years but find my strength flagging lately. Words of encouragement from another strong woman would be very welcome at this point, whether from Jamaica Kincaid or any of the other great writers mentioned in the previous comments. Nice to have some good suggestions to add to my library list!

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