books, Reading, Women Writers

Vivian Swift’s “Gardens of Awe and Folly”

“Ever since we first recognized ourselves as beings burdened with the mission of taking charge of this harsh, perplexing, seemingly pointless, and beautiful speck of dirt in the universe, our kind has been making gardens. No matter how grand or minuscule, every garden has a meaning all its own; but every garden, everywhere, has a common reason for being, in that it was made in homage to this wondrous Earth that has given life to every Eden we’ve ever imagined.” 


Vivian Swift’s “Gardens of Awe and Folly” is simply gorgeous. Swift treats this work as a journal and sketch book, full of contemplative passages and charming watercolors. Her tone is quiet, clever, and intimate in a way that is so endearing and personable that one imagines a friendship in the virtual spaces shared.

Throughout this beautiful volume, Swift introduces the reader to nine remarkable gardens across the globe. From Paris to Marrakech to Long Island, each garden is treated as a sacred space meant to communicate, not merely decorate.

“The soul of a garden comprises seasons, epochs, eons …while we humans can barely hold on to ten minutes at a time. It takes this, the slowest of garden experiences, to make us profoundly aware of our moment in the hierarchy of eternity.”

This is no how-to book, nor is it an exposition on rare varietals. It is, as the subtitle sets forth, “A Traveler’s Journal on the Meaning of Life and Gardening.” Swift not only explores and suggests the personalities and raisons d’etre of these gardens; she is seeking places of solitude to commune with, well, not strictly “nature” but an organic setting, and to reflect. An avowed introvert, she is introspective and an acute observer. Her musings are a joy.

I can’t help but include a few more bon mots of Swifts before closing.

“I love being in my favorite foreign city when the days are half-lit and glazed by a cold Winter rain. I am a connoisseur of rain (all us introverts are), and January rain in Edinburgh is the rain of romance. It’s for those of us who love the quiet libraries, the minor third of a sad song, and the aloneness of a 4 o’clock twilight.”

“Decrepitude has character, dilapidation has soul. There is great dignity in a regal decay.”

I am aggrieved that this was my first exposure to Vivian Swift, but I vow that it won’t be my last. I look forward to being in solitude with her again and again.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s