Des Kennedy, The Way of a Gardener

Ten years ago (!), I said how much I'd loved Des Kennedy's An Ecology of Enchantment. Even though I've only flipped back through it a few times since then, I've given away a few copies, and it's been regularly on my mind.

Kennedy's immediate followup, appearing in 2010, was the memoir The Way of a Gardener: A Life's Journey, and it's just the right next step even if it's been nine unaccountable years before I've taken that step with him.

Whereas Ecology was cyclical, one section for every week of the 52-week gardening year, The Way of a Gardener is linear with significant eddies. To some extent it's a traditional memoir, in that it moves from childhood to age, but Kennedy insists as well on various patterns of movement, such as the spatial from Ireland to Ontario to British Columbia, and the intellectual from religious to ... well, differently faith-filled, I suppose. Gardening, in the literal sense, is central to Kennedy's identity, and has been for many years, but one joy of this book comes from how Kennedy locates his kinship for gardening within his extended family, within a self-aware settler's actions in support of Indigenous peoples in this place, and within his complicated relationship with the church (with the Church? with religion? faith?).

The tale of Kennedy's 1970s move to Denman Island may seem calculated to enflame younger readers, especially those young enough to have seen 300 ft2 apartments become too expensive for them, but at least he's open about it. Homesteading has always been an intensely settler activity, in any case, and so there's no reason to be smug about one's ability to undertake that, and he's definitely not smug. Really, he's done his best to build an examined life for himself, roughly as separately from capitalist manias as one can be on BC's West Coast. The landscape around his home is vividly evoked here, and it makes me even more wild to visit (not that I've ever had an invitation, or any expectation of visiting!).

And what's not to love about an Irish accent, in any case? I came here from Theresa Kishkan's gorgeous Ireland-set novella Inishbream, about which I'll be writing soon, and so I was primed to recognize in Kennedy's prose the rhythms of his homeland that might otherwise have skimmed by. Distinctly one of the lovelier versions of English, I'd say.

Now, I don't expect that this book will become the touchstone for me that An Ecology of Enchantment has. However, there aren't many books that play that role for me, and it's absolutely no slight on the delightful Way of a Gardener should that be true.

Recommended for anyone who you could see enjoying any two of its overlapping themes: Irish childhood, West Coast life in the 1970s, gardening, environmental activism, and the search for beauty in the world around us.


Popular Posts