Kage Baker loved gardens. And gardening – she was a maker as well as a consumer, and brought talent and dedication to the art of cultivating a garden.
Growing up where she did helped. Mamma’s house was balanced on the peak of a ridge in the Hollywood Hills; the front and back gardens ran downhill in terraces, all of which were planted in various ways and species. The front yard was narrow strips of cool grass, beds of irises and ceanothus and nasturtiums and lilies and roses, roses, roses. Fruit trees and grape vines. The back was mostly dirt and kids’ toys, but even there apricot trees grew. The whole yard, front and back, was edged with huge eucalyptus and cypress trees. Kage took that childhood image as a goal everywhere she went as an adult.
Whether it was a row of pots or a half acre of fruit and vegetables and flowers, Kage built gardens. She didn’t have anything as limited or prosaic as a green thumb: she was an entire entwife. The life dreaming in the earth woke under her hands, and everywhere she lived it blossomed forth. Tulips, gladiolas, sweet peas, poppies, plums, apples, irises, herbs, corn, melons … about the only things she couldn’t coax to riotous fertility were petunias and zinnias. And that was mostly because the birds ate them.
Mendoza was not a botanist by accident. Write what you know, all young writers are advised, and Kage had learned gardening before even she learned how to read.
Of all Mendoza’s character traits, her passion for gardening and the green life of the earth were the most directly translated from Kage’s own heart. It’s Mendoza’s only joyous passion, in fact, and that joy came from her creatrix. Because when Kage first pondered immortality for her characters, she spent some time thinking: What would I be willing to do forever?
Gardening was high on the list. And so Mendoza became a botanist.
Me, now – I’m grunt labour. I carried pots and dug holes and tilled and hoed and built raised beds. I raked and mowed and wrestled clippings into garbage cans. I pushed wheelbarrows and handed seedlings to Kage. Every time her long hands tucked a baby plant into the fine dark earth, I knew it would thrive. She always looked like a mother drawing the fuzzy blanket around her infant’s shoulders: tender, preoccupied, already considering what training would be needed once the baby learned to stand up …
My sister Kimberly also loves gardening. I’m past much sweat equity work these days, but I am a great facilitator – I can buy things, including some specialty labour to get them going. So tomorrow we get a new front lawn. The parts that are not to be covered in drought-resistant dwarf fescue (which gives me images of teeny little axes around ankle level …) will be planted in creeping thyme: I ordered 60 seedling plants, once I found out the City of Los Angeles encourages homeowners to plant the stuff!
I’m getting new roses. I’m installing a picket fence. Kimberly and I can go out, as Kage and I used to, and water the garden in the cool evening, taking in the sweet breath of a rejuvenated garden.
It all makes me feel as though an important part of me has woken up and rejoined the living. So, Dear Readers, I will leave you with one of Kage’s favourite poems, about gardens. It’s a very true one.
A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot!
The veriest school
Of peace; and yet the fool
Contends that God is not–
Not God! in gardens! when the eve is cool?
Nay, but I have a sign;
‘Tis very sure God walks in mine.
Thomas Edward Brown
Ah. The garden and fruit tree scenes in “Garden of Iden”, as Mendoza and Nicholas’ relationship begins. Now, it has a deeper meaning. Time for a re-reading, I think. Thank you, Kate.
A number of famous English estate gardens – and several unknown-except-to-locals Hollywood estate gardens – are combined into Iden’s Garden. Plus some corners of childhood gardens, a yew hedge off Outpost Drive, the ageless oaks of Agoura … and a little stone bench at the top of a street made entirely of staircases that ran off Hightower Street. We used to sit there and eat stolen citrus fruit.