BY KIMBERLY MAYER
I make too much of houses, I know that. I always have. So on a recent visit to the Virgin Islands to try to locate four homes I had lived in nearly forty years ago, I ran into a wall. Four walls, to be precise.
We hired a driver for a couple hours to help scout out the homes. But what I remembered were the names of the bays, not the roads. The views, not the directions. Mostly what I remembered was every little detail about the homes.
Well none of them were there, or none of them could be found. Hurricanes, developers, or my faulty memory had conspired to remove them all. We were free to pursue other interests. Such as the flora.
And for the first time—mind you, I had lived there for two full years—I took note of the tropical plants and trees. I can say that while I had always appreciated the natural beauty around me, I’d never studied the vegetation or learned many names. And as every gardener knows, knowledge of plants only increases one’s pleasure in the garden.
Years later in moving east to Philadelphia from California, I brought with me a comprehensive knowledge of Mediterranean plants. I could walk through the conservatories at Longwood Gardens identifying, and feeling at home with, my Mediterranean friends. I carried nothing like this back with me from The Virgin Islands.
The fact is, I hadn’t started gardening yet. I was in my twenties in St. Thomas, starting a shop, running a shop, and had nothing in common with Tilly-hatted, kahki-clad women kneeling on kneepads with tool bags by their side. In my free time I was literally and figuratively at the beach.
Interest in gardening is an age thing perhaps. I took it up when I had children so they might inherit it, and I took it up with fever. Later still, I wrote a manuscript around it. A couple weeks ago in Boston I found a literary agent for that gardening memoir at GrubStreet’s The Muse and the Marketplace writer’s conference. From Boston I flew directly to the Caribbean. I thought a fresh take on the houses would refreshen my book, but it’s the flora and foliage that did it.
Nature is what survives somehow, I should have known that. Nature is all that matters.