Garden Gate Curleyques

Garden Plots: About the Garden

       As a lifelong gardener (mostly of vegetables) and an admirer of gardens and gardeners, I decided that I would take advantage of Washburn University’s Sweet Summer Sabbatical in order to visit botanical gardens in the UK and France.  During that summer, my wife and son and I visited 21 gardens in 31 days, first in London, then Paris, then the Moors, the Lake District, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.  I was determined to fashion a short story idea each day I was away from Kansas.

We talked with gardeners, with docents, with fellow tourists.  We read all the brochures, bought books, studied maps, made notes for future research.  A typical serendipitous moment occurred in the Chelsea Physic Garden.  I was caught in the rain so took shelter in a small greenhouse, where a volunteer was also keeping dry.  We visited, and when I said I was there on a sabbatical from my university, and enjoying the garden, she asked, “So, you’re a botanist?”  When I told her I was an English Professor, who taught creative writing, she shook her head.  “I’m sure nothing literary ever happened here,” she said.  The rain stopped, and I continued through the garden.  Soon, the volunteer tracked me down.  “There is one thing,” she said.  “Wilfred Owen spent his last night in England here.  He left for the front the next day, and was killed."  With stories like that, I came back to Topeka with a notebook full of “seeds” for fiction. That episode is one of my stories, "Wilfred Owen's Final Garden."

       I was also during that time researching and finishing my novel rode, published in 2011 by the University of New Mexico Press.  So, I decided I’d better write out my story ideas, at least in miniature form, so that they would remain fresh.  Since I was expected to report on my summer sabbatical at Washburn’s International House, I thought to use these small “Garden Plots” along with photographs from the gardens we visited, and do a reading and power point presentation.

       Two things happened:  I really enjoyed the tight forms of the short, short story, the prose poem, the brief mini-essay, the meditation, the rant, and the poetry that arrived as I fleshed out my ideas.  And those attending the Brown Bag Lecture at Washburn were an appreciative audience.  Since that summer of 2007, I have visited gardens in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Oregon, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Mexico, and Kansas (to name a few), and to write in these short forms, on these subjects.  From the nearly 100 Garden Plots—over 50 of them have found homes in literary magazines—I have culled those contained on this website, so that you might visit them as you have time and interest.





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