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Positive Reading List: ‘The Invisible Garden’ by Dorothy Sucher

This gorgeous book explores how gardening is a metaphor for a life that takes hard work but yields great rewards.

Gardening is like life

When I read the following sentence early in Dorothy Sucher’s “The Invisible Garden,” I knew it would take up long-term residence on my list of favorite books: “Gardens give their owners so much joy and discontent that sometimes they seem to be a metaphor for life.”

Gardening is easy to romanticize, but to me, its real power lies in the totality of the experience of working the soil. It’s not only the harvesting or vase-filling. It’s also the rock-removing, weed-pulling, back-aching, sweat-pouring and mistake-making that literally comes with the territory of investing time in a garden.

Sucher’s lyrical book, a collection of essays published in 1999, follows her journey as she convinces her husband to purchase a house in rural Vermont. She is taken in and inspired by the stream and wild promise of a lush and vibrant garden on the property.

Sucher died in 2010, and an obituary describes her as a “renaissance woman” who was a mystery writer, psychotherapist, journalist, artist and—from the moment she first set foot on that overgrown property in Cabot, Vermont—gardener. Her curiosity and delight in discovering new skills and solving unexpected problem shines through her writing, as she attempts to clear the area around the stream only to find out how resilient the growth there is, or when she endeavors to have a backhoe come and dig out a pond on the property.

Spoiler alert—both projects eventually come to lovely fruition. And along the way, Sucher reflects on patience (or lack thereof), friendship (how today’s nosy neighbor can become tomorrow’s bestie), awe (picture a vast and colorful lupine meadow) and the indescribable love for a place. It’s the feeling that can descend seemly from the heavens and, like a flower, blossom and grow when it’s planted in the right spot.

Sucher’s prose sings with insight and wisdom. “Nature has its own laws, some stern and some gentle,” she writes. “These reveal themselves if we are patient and willing to learn, and perceiving them brings us satisfaction and a measure of peace.” 

As my own garden wakes up this month, and I start to tuck in some seeds and dream of the season ahead, I am trying to channel Sucher’s warmth and excited inquisitiveness. I am trying to lean into my garden in hopes that it might become a metaphor for a growing life, one that asks me to work on it—constantly but with great rewards. 

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