Kage Baker loved gardening. She was supernally good at it, too – which is not always a given. We have all, Dear Readers, known sad but determined gardeners whose efforts are an exercise in still lives and Martian landscapes.
She gave that doomed interest in gardening to her Children of the Sun. They like the idea of gardens, but are not any good at dealing with plants. Not living plants, anyway. They are as locusts to the wild grain-lands which they harvest down to dust, but never figure out how to re-plant; they trade with the Yendri for everything else, from medicinal herbs to beans to recreational weed. But they have no idea how any of it works, nor trust in the people who can, demonstrably, provide them with what they want …
Gardens of sand and stone, tile and glass, are what the Children of the Sun like. Partly it’s because the colours of those can run to reds and golds without a guilty reminder that a tree died. Partly it’s because most of those are born of fire: and so are the Children of the Sun. In House of the Stag, Kage gives Gard a brief career as a gardener’s assistant – he plants perfectly alive specimens in a lady’s gardens, but no one (himself included) knows how to take care of them and they promptly die. Which is all right, because they turn nice shades of yellow and the householder likes them better that way.
It was Kage’s little black joke. It got a bit blacker when she had to explain it to an editor, who apparently also knew zilch about plants. Kage was always amazed at how her attempts at satire and fantasy were accurate in the Real World …
Kage’s own garden was a wonder and delight. No matter where we lived, she planted fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers; in beds where she could build them, in pots where there was less room. Usually in both, because even when we lived in a cottage with a garden twice the square footage of our house, Kage wanted plants on the porch, in the windows, along the fences. She was a talented gardener, even an inspired one – her only failures I can recall were zinnias and bell peppers. And those were because white-crowned sparrows ate the zinnia seedlings; a friend’s Pekinese ate the bell peppers right off the plants. But everything else, from heritage squashes to Brussels sprouts to exotic tulips, grew where she planted it.
We had relict apple and plum trees, heritage tomatoes, glassy jewel-toned Mendoza corn. We had roses and tulips and nasturtiums with deliberate viral striping that flaunted every colour of the rainbow. We had bicolour roses, purple roses, roses that smelled like tea and chocolate and jasmine and the sea. Kage even encouraged the neon-yellow oxalis to bloom in our lawns in the late winter, to give colour to the grass before the crocuses and hyacinths woke up. Mint and horseradish grew amid the grass, too, which made mowing it an olfactory paradise for the garden grunt (me).
And as well as simply enriching our lives, culinarily and spiritually, the garden was Kage’s outlet. She went to it when she was depressed, or angry, or fretful. She went to it when she had writer’s block. She went to it when she knew she had to write but wasn’t ready to sit still that long yet, and she let pruning the roses or harrowing the spring vegetable patch wear her out so she could sit down and compose.
I’ve been trying to balance the demands of daily life with writing oddly this year. And badly. That’s because the world’s turned upside down, and everyday life has become a horror show. I think it’s my duty to know what the news is – even more, I think it’s my duty to do something about the mess that my country is in. So before I try to write fiction every day, I sit down and check the news and send off letters to all my Congress critters. Once of them even answered me, too. Once.
Well, it doesn’t work well. It leaves me soul-sick, increasingly aggrieved, perpetually depressed and just plain in a funk. I don’t really think taking up arms against the sea of troubles is a good idea – and I don’t think I’d be very good at it, either, which may be even more important. But my current division of labour is killing something in me.
I need to replace hands-on civics with something else. And as tempting as it is to stockpile gun cotton and Molotov cocktails in my cellar (and yes, I have a cellar, O California rarity!), it’s not a good idea. I’m returning to gardening, to start with: tomatoes and other veggies, a careful pampering of my pregnant plum tree, a scattering of wild flowers in the xeriscaped front lawn. Sunflowers and sweet peas. Things that are tough and smell good.
It worked for Kage. It’s something I haven’t tried yet. But it’s got to be better for everyone around me than living in the 24/7 news cycle has been. I need a rest from civil unrest. I need to make some art. I need some quiet time in another world.
I have an idea that I can maybe blame zombies on Toxoplasma gondii. And right now, that seems so much more wholesome than immersion in rabid politics … carry on, comrades. I’ll be waving you on for awhile from the tomato patch.