People with Dirty Hands: The Passion for Gardening is a book of naked gardener Truths. Author Robin Chotzinoff reveals her shortcomings up front and relates that it is the adventure of gardening that attracts her and not the perfection of it. Robin allows us to visit others' gardens through her eyes as she takes off on exciting journeys across the United States -- season after season -- constantly seeking gardeners' wisdom while learning about different gardeners' styles, plant preferences, and reasons for gardening. She visits friends and strangers and seems to reach out to those whose gardens attract her by word of mouth. Chartzinoff reminds us that gardening is a never ending learning process and a constant adventure.
Chotzinoff flits from topic to topic and I sometimes find her transitions jilted. However, the book consistently brings me back on track when she dives to the heart of gardeners' desires and sense of purpose. Her focus on what drives gardeners brings her from New Mexican hot peppers to Maine perennials. She discusses people's passions for individual plants, their love of landscape, and their reasons for loving the act of gardening itself. She discusses how varieties of personalities are attracted to gardening for a variety of reasons. She relates how people bond with nature and how the garden allows us to step outside of ourselves and our real lives. When we commune with what we grow, we find freedom from whatever ails us and bond with something that heals.
At times, Chotzinoff's imagery is poetic and passionate in paragraphs such as: "I did not grow up in the presence of direct light. We lived nine floors up in a very nice nine-room Manhattan apartment on the Upper West Side. The only way to see the sky was to open the window wide and stick your head out far enough to look straight up." This type of exaggeration is especially appealing and strikes me. I grew up in New York and see this as a typically New Yorker view of the world. Chotzinoff's humor ranges from subtle to sarcastic and comfortably tickles my funny bone. Both Chotzinoff and I have left our "native land," but our New York roots are still firmly grounded. I also appreciate her description of her relaxed gardening style. she reminds me that it is okay for my garden to be as at is. One must appreciate one's garden just for its existence, wherever it is, whatever form it takes.
I found most appealing Chotzinoff's chapter entitled "Long Island Roots." Here she seems most honest and relaxed as she relates her relationship to her Aunt Cookie who was and is the impetus for Robin's own gardening. Within the chapter, she describes the wisdom Aunt Cookie imparts and how her own love of gardening grew as she watched her beloved Aunt. The chapter discusses the correspondence of niece and aunt and the things that Chotzinoff has learned from their garden talks including "You really have no control over a garden. You may think you do, but you don't." She talks about the comparing gardening notes, acknowledging what you don't know and living with it, how gardening is cathartic, and how the imperfect garden is perfect in its personal nature.
In short, this book provides a strong sense of a community of gardeners, including friends, strangers, legends, and relations. No matter how we differ in what we grow, where we live, what land we tend, or our circumstances, a good gardener learns to go with the flow. We can all relate to that true passion for gardening and how dirty hands bring us peace. Thank you to Carol from May Dream Gardens for adding this book to her book club.