Thursday, March 1, 2018

This Month in the Garden: Memoirs of a Garden Author-My Life, Garden and Books

It’s funny how life leads us down different paths. This past month I celebrated the first anniversary of the publishing of my second book, Landscape Design Combinations and the third anniversary of A Guide to Northeastern Gardening. Never in my wildest dreams would I ever have imagined writing and publishing a book, nonetheless two. As I look back now, I think of how it all began.

My mother’s favorite flowers were daisies, so as a small child I would pick them for her and it would make her smile. She was never much of a gardener, but had a small patch of iris along the fence that grew there for as long as I could remember, and are still there today. There is also an eastern red cedar that I planted with my dad, which was my first “real tree” ever dug into the soil. Before then, it was really just flowers. The next door neighbor Joan, who is like a second mom to me, cultivated a beautiful flower garden along the perimeter of her property, one that I would admire daily, and continue to visit today. You see, I never left the home that I grew up in, so there are so many memories here. 

While growing up, my mother had the vision of being able to look at a wall and redesign it in her head and she would tell me that could see it in her mind. Her brother, my uncle, was an architect. When I think of it now, that is probably where I inherited my skill to look at a blank piece of lawn and imagine a garden. It’s funny that I never pursued any art classes in high school, but majored in science and did the same when I went off to college. I ended up with a career in teaching, which lasted for 32 years.

As an adult, I took on an interest in painting while watching Bob Ross on TV with his mountains and trees, and tried out some painting with oils. That lasted about three years until I had painted about as many mountains and trees as I could and had exhausted my talent, which wasn’t much. After that, I took on a new hobby of helping friends with their gardens by going to the nursery with them to pick out plants and lay them out at their homes.

Halfway through my teaching career, in 1995, my husband and I did a major backyard renovation with an in-ground pool and gardens, the latter which I designed. I had been absorbing everything I possibly could about gardening for years, so I started to envision how the backyard could look. This lifetime passion inside of me had surfaced. During the pool project, I sat with the landscaper and picked out the types of plants I wanted and worked on the layout, which fell into place. As time went on, I continued helping friends with their gardens, and one day a friend suggested I start up a business designing. 

After some time, I decided to move forward, and set out to get my business license. In the beginning, I drew rough sketches of plant layouts for clients, but wanted to learn more about drafting. Since I was teaching full time, and courses were only offered during the daytime, I contacted a professor at Farmingdale University and explained my dilemma. He told me he could suggest the book he used for his course and maybe I could get something out of it. Well, long story short, I read the entire book cover to cover and taught myself how to draft a scaled landscape plan. I then taught myself computer rendered design so that I could present my designs in a visual sense. My landscape design business grew and was something I did during summers, weekends and whenever I had time after teaching hours.

Where does the writing come in? Good question! Back in 2009, a movie came out called Julie and Julia, where a young New Yorker named Julie Powell started a blog about her cooking idol Julia Child, who was played by Meryl Streep. While watching the movie, I exclaimed, “Hey…I should start a blog about gardening!” I started writing, and in 2010, “A Guide to Northeastern Gardening” blog was born. As I wrote posts, I became more and more educated about plants, and as my interest grew, I had a desire to take some horticultural classes. I started attending gardening workshops and enrolled in classes at Farmingdale University and took mini courses through Cornell Cooperative Extension, which I was able to accomplish during evenings while teaching. My list of gardens to visit grew, while it became a regular practice to observe what was blooming in each season. My number of gardening resources and garden blogging friends continued to grow.

As 2013 came around, and after 32 years of teaching, I retired from what was my main job. Landscape designing was now full time and I was enjoying every moment of being outdoors and designing client’s properties. As a designer, friends, family and clients would often ask me questions about plants and how to maintain them, and I was more than eager to answer them. Plant chat is one of my favorite past times! I’m not even sure how the books came about, but I do remember saying, “There’s so much information in my head. I should write all this down!” I started analyzing my blog posts over the years to see which drew the most interest, made a list of topics and started writing. After many transformations, the book I had set out to accomplish slowly came to be. Self-publishing for a first-time author was not an easy task and I almost gave up several times. With the encouragement of my dear patient husband and friends, my first book, A Guide to Northeastern Gardening became a reality.

In 2015, after the accomplishment of my first book, there was no stopping me as I set forth to start a second book, this time with a focus on landscape design. I wanted to take my experiences from over the 20 years of designing and share them in an easy to understand format that either a novice or experienced gardener could follow. I went through photographs of my work, trying to include a nice sampling of garden styles, labeling them with numbering and plant descriptions. Being an advocate of combining color and texture, there were several of my favorites that I wanted to share. I also wanted to include some ideas on the use of hardscape and talk about garden styles throughout history. As I continued to write and organize my thoughts, my second book, Landscape Design Combinations was born.

Writing for me is all about sharing my lifetime passion of gardening and being able to pass on my experiences to others. The moral of the story...follow your dreams. It has been a wonderful journey and learning experience and I am glad to have remained determined and persistent. As I look back on life's paths, I dedicate this post to my husband Tony who gave me needed support, my neighbor Joan who taught me an appreciation of gardening while young, and in loving memory of my parents who put a trowel in my hand for the very first time. I am thankful for all the support and encouragement from family and friends, and special thanks go out to all my blogging colleagues, who have taught me to follow my passion, and that dreams can become a reality. Visit My Books and Author Page.

~As Always...Happy Gardening!~

Author: Lee@A Guide to Northeastern Gardening, © Copyright 2018. All rights reserved

16 comments:

  1. A very interesting and motivational story ...

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    1. Thank you for stopping by and commenting. The story was emotional to compose. I am glad you enjoyed it.

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  2. Lee, congratulations on your many accomplishments and for just taking up each challenge with enthusiasm as each opportunity came along. Great post.

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    1. Thank you so much. That means a lot. At times each step along the way seemed almost impossible to achieve, but I kept persevering!

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  3. I haven't followed your blog for long so this is all wonderful information. You have had an interesting and varied life. I am so glad to have found your blog. I can't imagine living in one house your whole life. Amazing. It must be very grounding.

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    1. Thank you Lisa. When I wrote this post, it really took me back through many wonderful memories. I always enjoy reading other's life stories, so when I started to write this, I just kept thinking of all the paths that led me along the way. It's nice to hear that you enjoyed reading it.

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  4. What a great story. I still think you should GWA: The Association of Garden Communicators. You would fit right in!

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    1. Thank you Carol and I did! I just signed up for GWA and am looking forward to connecting with others who share the same passion.

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  5. Hi Lee, I really enjoy reading your story. I was delighted that we have many things in common, including the fact that I, too, started my blog in 2009 after watching Julie and Julia! Before that I only vaguely knew what a blog was. In fact, I started writing my own blog before I had ever read one. But blogging brought my love of writing, gardening, and photography all together. My life has blossomed in many ways since then. Thanks for sharing your journey!

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    1. Thank you so much Deb. I love that we followed a similar journey. Who would have known that a movie, Julie and Julia could change a life?! Have a wonderful week!

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  6. Lee, it is so nice to meet you and thank you for your visit to my blog. I so enjoyed reading your story about your journey in landscape design and writing. I am a very amateur gardener with much to learn. I will be visiting you often!

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    1. It's nice to meet you as well Pam and I am glad to have found your blog. I will look forward to visiting you!

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  7. Beautiful photos. I believe this is the first time you've visited us at image-in-ing - so glad to see you, and I hope you'll come by often!
    Thanks for sharing at https://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2018/03/springtime-at-sarah-p-duke-gardens.html

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  8. What a wonderful journey! That's awesome that you were able to find a new passion and career! And how amazing to be able to see the land and its gardens evolve and mature over time since childhood.

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    1. I am so pleased that you enjoyed the post. It was an emotional one to write for me.

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Thank you for visiting. I love reading your comments and knowing you have been here, and will try to reciprocate on your blog. If you have any questions I will try my very best to answer them. As always...HAPPY GARDENING!

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