Musings + Essays

Gardening for Yourself.

By: Jen Shoop
I am sitting here wanting to channel Lloyd: garden for yourself. I mean this less in the sense of solipsism and more as a matter of intentionality and focus. You have one wild and precious life: are you going to spend it ambivalently looking out over your kiwi vine, or are you going to plant something that brings joy?

*Image via Miranda Brooks.

I know next to nothing about gardening, and — despite loving cut flowers in the house and herbs, fruit, and vegetables a few feet outside my door — nurse only the mildest of interests in learning more. I suspect I lack the patience and detail-orientedness required. I consider myself a generally patient and detail-oriented person by nature, but one thing I have learned about myself over time is that my interests must be powered by an inward passion that pre-exists the activity itself or my contributions to the matter will sputter to an unceremonious halt. For example, I have tried, unsuccessfully, to get into calligraphy, various fitness “cults,” sewing (I own a sewing machine!), and any manner of handicraft over the years, only to find relics of these temporary passions cluttering a bin in my work closet. Meanwhile, I could — and do — spend hours and hours of time writing, editing, doodling thoughts on paper, evaluating the writing of others, digging into the thesaurus, jotting down scraps of plot lines and musings. No prompting necessary. And when I am really in a flow, Mr. Magpie informs me I have “scary focus” — it is almost as if I am entranced. My dedication to this pursuit, in other words, stands on sturdy bridge piers.

People change, though. Perhaps, later in life, with a more lightly-laden plate, I will find myself digging into the earth alongside my husband. I hope so, not only for the sake of companionship, and not only because I so enjoy the fruits of that kind of labor, but because gardening presents a perfect canvas for living out so many of the core values I have come to cultivate:

+Art for the sake of art. Beauty for the sake of beauty. Flowers do nothing but embellish our lives; caring for a cutting garden is the ultimate “ice cream moment.” This dovetails beautifully with some of my recent musings on creating not for its extrinsic value but in order to, as Kurt Vonnegut put it, “find out what’s inside of you.”

+Notice what is at “eye’s level.” Gardening requires careful watch. My husband visits his garden every morning and returns with a full and thoughtful report about the state of things — certain plants doing well, and others not; overcrowding; weeds; the amount of rain and heat we’ve had and how these are impacting the garden’s yield; the damn chipmunks; etc. This particular brand of noticing strikes me as especially precious, as there is no substitute, when it comes to caring for myself, for spending time outside. It is like hitting the re-set button. The inconsequential matters we carry with us fall away, or at least appear suddenly re-sized. Observing Mother Nature up close and personal on a daily basis is bound to bestow perspective.


+Practice what you love daily. Gardening demands this commitment by its very nature. In my case, writing has been a daily practice for decades now. I know nothing of the quality of my output over time, but the process has been rich and rewarding, and I now feel a tingly emptiness when I have not been at my desk for some time.

+Design your life with intention. The great English gardener Christopher Lloyd insisted that one should garden for oneself. He wrote: “Every gardener nurses prejudices against certain plants or flowers. It is not a bad idea to examine our own, from time to time, and to decide whether they have sufficient validity to be taken to our graves. If a plant bores you, something must be done about it. The simplest course, if it belongs to you, is to throw it out. If it is someone else’s, look the other way. If it belongs to someone you rather dislike anyway, don’t be ashamed to let it confirm you in an inclusive repulsion. At the least, you must react somehow. If you accept all your surroundings meekly, something in you will die.” Since we moved into our home, Mr. Magpie has torn out several plantings and replaced them with vegetables that interest him and complement his culinary pursuits. For example, a full and complete herb garden was requisite, and he has also cultivated his own garlic and potatoes, as we were, after all, Midwesterners for five years. He has been talking more or less since the day we moved in about ripping out a kiwi vine that twines around the railing of our back patio, espalier style. We have gone back and forth on this. It is quick climber that requires regular pruning, and it puts off a pungent stink at certain phases of growth that is not ideal given its proximity to our outdoor dining table. At the same time, it affords the patio a pleasantly leafy “tree-house” effect that doubles as extra privacy from our closest neighbors. Mainly, though, the vine is a fun party trick; people are surprised and tickled by it, and many have left our home with kiwis pressed into their palms. Still, I am sitting here wanting to channel Lloyd: garden for yourself. I mean this less in the sense of solipsism and more as a matter of intentionality and focus. You have one wild and precious life: are you going to spend it ambivalently looking out over your kiwi vine, or are you going to plant something that brings joy? The applicability of this sagacity to other realms of life needs no trumpeting. As Lloyd put it: “If you accept your surroundings meekly, something in you will die.” So —

Change the house color. Take control of your day by scheduling that workout, deferring non-urgent tasks, accepting the chores that must be done. Switch jobs. Re-upholster the chair you inherited. In the words of Melville, “Sing out for new stars.”



+The first job each morning.

+Wild geese.

+On the concept of flow.

Shopping Break.

+This velvet headband is the perfect exclamation point on a fall outfit — or, if you like bolder looks, this exaggerated bow. A girlfriend of mine recently underwent a surgery on her scalp and was asking me for something that could help cover up some of the hair patchiness for a special occasion, and the latter immediately came to mind!

+A great oversized cardigan in a cozy neutral color to wear over everything.

+Oo – I love this long-sleeved collared knit (under $40). Great for layering and super elegant.

+If you need a new iPhone case — these are so fun.

+My favorite fall candle.

+Have been eyeing the Alice Walk sweaters since last fall…

+One of the pieces I am most excited about in our currently-under-renovation family room is a spindle chair our interior designer is upholstering in a blue gingham. The chair looks almost identical to this one — look for less with this or this.

+I have been putting together a cart full of Maison Me pieces for mini this fall — I’ll share all my snags when I place the order, but, if you have a baby girl, how adorable is this?! Jacadi/LaCoqueta vibes for a great price. They also have such cute puffers with great prints!

+Love the contrast stitching on this sweater.

+A great tote for moms on the go — diaper bag / trailing littles / etc. An elevated Boat and Tote.

+These embellished flats are SO cute. Would be ideal for a tall bride!

+A great wedding guest dress for a formal occasion in the next month or so.

+Loving these $15 olive-hued sunglasses.

+This is just the cutest lamp.

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2 thoughts on “Gardening for Yourself.

  1. My dad is an avid gardener, and this post made me realize how tender and selfless his hobby is. The image of him planting trees he won’t live to see grow into maturity has me overcome with emotion. Thank you for reminding me to call him, xx.

    Also, I’m obsessed with the quote from Christopher Lloyd! As I near thirty this year, I find that I have a hazy vision of the woman I want to be. I often wonder what I need to do to become her and I think the answer is pruning–trimming or cutting or hacking with a machete away anything that doesn’t bring me joy, purpose, and love.

    + Have you tried the Jo Malone Velvet Rose & Oud candle? That + the Diptyque are my go- to for these colder seasons.

    1. Hi Veronica! I absolutely love that this post prompted you to think of your dad — so sweet. Gardening is really such a “tender and selfless” hobby. I agree on the quote from Lloyd! I found it stirring, too — a call to focus, be proactive in shaping the life I want.

      I have not tried that candle! I am going to stop by Blue Mercury this week and will give it a smell!!


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