From the Ground Up: The Story of My First Garden

by Amy Stewart

Published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

256 pages, 2001

Buy it online





The Gardener's Promise

Reviewed by Janice A. Farringer


In early spring a succession of seed catalogues arrives in my mailbox, a signal to get my tea, snuggle down in the comforter and leisurely flip through looking for just the plants I need to challenge my clay soil and my patience next summer. For a brief but wonderful moment, everything seems possible. It is this same kind of content-but-anticipatory feeling that runs through Amy Stewart's new gardening book, From The Ground Up. This is heartwarming stuff that reminds old gardeners why they spread lime in February and promises new ones that there is wonder to be found in their own backyards.

From The Ground Up is a gardener's coming of age story. Nice young woman moves from her home turf to a strange and wonderful city where she has, for the first time, a patch of dirt to call her own. But the land is recalcitrant and the plants finicky. She toils in the garden to make it her own and comes to understand that we are all stewards, not owners, and when we move on, the land will be different again and that's OK. We have left a mark not only there, but also on our hearts that is permanent. The inner gardener becomes as important as the dill we pick for the kitchen. It is a mindset and a dream of sorts. In her book, Stewart, a brand-new gardener, takes us along for her transformation.

A growing garden requires skill and attention, and I often wondered if I was up to the task. Maybe I wasn't watering enough. Maybe it needed more fertilizer. At night I sometimes woke up convinced that there were pests circling my house like enemy squadrons waiting to attack.

The writing is spare and funny. Stewart records the epic labor of woman and soil and plants and rain and bugs with an inner focus that is refreshing and soothing. Though each chapter gives a clue and a practical hint for the beginning gardener, old gardeners will relish Stewart's ability to exhale the reasons we garden, the feelings and the wonder. From the Ground Up will renew your spirit and make you happy to be a member of the tribe who tends a piece of the earth and marvels at the bounty it yields.

The basil found its way into every meal: the tomato sandwiches, the pesto linguine, the cream cheese on bagels, even the green salads, where I snipped it into ribbons and tossed it with lettuce. I was nonchalant about it. I didn't want the basil to think there was anything unusual going on and get worried. The snails, I had come to believe, could smell fear.

Read this book for its tips, its laughs, its hope, but most of all for its humanity. Amy Stewart's first garden becomes a stage for her spirit and a story for all of us to enjoy. | March 2001


Janice A. Farringer is a writer and creative writing teacher living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.