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Meeting A Gardener Through His Lens

...Freeman Patterson
by Jodi DeLong
by Jodi DeLong


Writing about plants and gardening is just one part of Jodi¹s professional writing business. She¹s been a garden columnist for the Atlantic Co-operator for over five years, and last year was invited to do a biweekly column in the Halifax Chronicle Herald, Canada¹s oldest independent daily newspaper. In addition, she writes regular garden features for Saltscapes magazine, Manitoba Co-operator, Grainews, Rural Delivery, and has also had various feature articles in Canadian Gardening, Cottage Life, Complete Canadian Gardener, Aquascapes Lifestyles, and East Coast Gardener. Jodi sits on the National Board of Directors for PWAC, the Periodical Writers Association of Canada, as Atlantic Regional Director, and is also a member of the Writers Federation of Nova Scotia. When she¹s not writing, she¹s gardening, reading about gardening, photographing gardens, thinking about gardening, or ignoring the housework.

June 29, 2003

'How can a person not garden in spring?' So asks photographer and gardener Freeman Patterson in his gorgeous new book, The Garden. Key Porter, 192 pp, 45.00 hardcover.

I defy the reader of The Garden to ever look at a garden in the same way again, as you savour Patterson's photographs of 'unearned and undeserved beauty.' This is a book for those who love fine art, photography, gardening, nature...and joy, as its pages encompass all these things and more. It's a book for anyone who cares about the natural world that surrounds us. Never preachy, the prose is elegant, thoughtful and cuts to the heart with its honesty.

After all, as Patterson observes, 'When you invite somebody into your garden you are inviting them to meet you.'

This isn't a book on how to garden, as such, although a reader can glean helpful ideas from the thoughtful passages that accompany each photograph. Patterson is an astute observer of the world around him, and encourages the reader of his book to take the time to really see. Whether observing the way dew catches on the silvery covering of emerging fern fronds, or a cluster of fallen leaves caught in a pond, or the impressionist beauty of dancing trees, we view his art and subsequently the world around us with fresh eyes.

Patterson savours gardens both formally created and those sprung out of nature. As he gleefully writes, 'If I like what's happening naturally in a certain spot, I simply proclaim it to be a garden, and put a bench there. Very labour saving and inexpensive!'

The joy of this book is a mirror of the happiness in Patterson's life, as he enjoys extremely good health following five years of being critically ill. He says, 'Gardens really are metaphors for how we live and what we consider important, and we learn the most about ourselves by observing what we have created.' It's no wonder, then, that his gardens are lavish celebrations of life, from the cultivated hostas, poppies and daylilies in planned beds to the splendidly wild hay-scented ferns, elderberries and sumachs in those 'proclaimed' garden areas.

Patterson takes us through five seasons of his garden, from spring through summer, autumn, winter and back to spring again, his favourite season. Each of the photographs is accompanied by a brief essay, not necessarily completely describing the scene but always complementing it.

One of the most effective, even euphoric photographs in the entire book is a shot of shimmering gold bursts of light with a muted background, ice-covered trees caught through Patterson¹s office window during a sunny moment in winter. The photograph shouts an exultation of light and colour; a frozen bit of midwinter magic.

Although joy is an underlying theme throughout, there are also pensive moments. Patterson admits to not doing well in winter, when he can't see the ground, and from suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder. He writes frankly that he needs flowers around him, and has done so since he was a young boy. 'For me, not to garden would be saying 'no' to life itself.'

Nowhere is the text more honest and moving than where Patterson writes about his mother. He tenderly says, 'It is because of her that I have a garden.' The essay about how dying hosta leaves remind him of his mother in her last years moved me to tears. Patterson's mother was a deeply profound and positive influence in his life, and he says as he gets older, he realizes just how much this is so.

As a reviewer, I have the privilege of reading many books, some very fine, some less so. The Garden is perhaps the most splendid work of non-fiction I¹ve had the pleasure to review, and it ought to be a best seller and an award winner. See for yourself.


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