Melanie Heuiser Hill ampersand


Melanie Heuiser Hill

Melanie Heuiser Hill ampersand


Melanie Heuiser Hill

Gardening & Writing


We start­ed fall cleanup in the gar­den this past week­end. I can hard­ly bear it, but needs must. Took down all the climb­ing and tan­gled beans, which was a work­out in and of itself, and which opened things up con­sid­er­ably. My hus­band built a new peony/dahlia gar­den fea­ture that we’re awful­ly excit­ed about even though it just looks like dirt now…but it holds such hope and promise for next spring! The E.B. White line about his bulb-plant­i­ng wife “calm­ly plot­ting the res­ur­rec­tion” comes to mind. (Fun Fact: The sign above the door to our gar­den is the name of the gar­den­ing col­umn Kather­ine White wrote for The New York­er.)

Soon we’ll have to clear out the toma­to plant skele­tons, the friz­zled zin­nia remains (which I hate to do until I’m sure the goldfinch­es have moved through), as well as the still bois­ter­ous marigolds. It has to be done—there’s the fall com­post appli­ca­tion and two new beds to install replac­ing “com­post­ing” wood ones. It’ll be quite a job—hopefully we have a long fall. Nei­ther of us wants to be out there in the snow.

I should be clear: my hus­band does all the hard gar­den work. This leaves me to wan­der about tuck­ing in new seeds and plants, los­ing myself in day­dreams and pos­si­ble book plots while water­ing and har­vest­ing veg­eta­bles, and cre­at­ing small bou­quets of joy from the flow­ers. I try to pull my weight, but I get dis­tract­ed. I do try not to make more work for him, though I’m not always suc­cess­ful at that either.

Giant pump­kin is in there–look close­ly under the leaves. Also notice how it climbed the fence and escaped!

For me the gar­den is a beau­ti­ful teacher and work­ing metaphor of writ­ing. This fall the writ­ing par­al­lels and insights have been many. In 2013, when we cre­at­ed the gar­den space that takes up much of our back­yard, we put a size­able pump­kin patch at the back of it. For a few years we tried our hand at grow­ing giant pump­kins because I was writ­ing a book about grow­ing a giant pump­kin. We nev­er put near­ly as much work into it as true grow­ers do and the results were still star­tling. It was a fun project when the kids were still home.

But, alas, the kids have grown up, and the last cou­ple of years I’ve been all about flow­ers, so the pump­kin patch has been recon­script­ed to be a flower patch, though so far we con­tin­ue to call it the pump­kin patch so as to dis­tin­guish it from the oth­er flower patch­es in the gar­den. We moved some black-eyed susans and cone flow­ers of var­i­ous col­ors from the site of the new peony and dahlia gar­den. I filled in with col­or­ful zin­nias, salvia, and marigolds this sum­mer. And then a won­der­ful gift cer­tifi­cate got us some phlox, gold­en rod, and car­di­nal flower and the peren­ni­al like, which have been put to bed along the back fence, care­ful­ly leav­ing emp­ty pock­ets for sun­flow­ers, which I’m deter­mined to grow despite our squir­rel issues, which are many and mad­den­ing. I spent the sum­mer bat­tling what I think is purslane, which crept along under every­thing. (Yes, I know purslane is not only edi­ble but super nutri­tious, but it also looks a lot like spurge, which is poi­so­nous, so….)

The new pumpkin/flower patch.

As these gar­den changes were being plot­ted and car­ried out, I start­ed a full-revi­sion of the nov­el I’ve been work­ing on for four long years up in my office over­look­ing the gar­den. It’s a bit of a sprawl, lack­ing the fenc­ing and orga­ni­za­tion of the gar­den. There are many tan­gled parts and tak­ing them apart has been messy and time con­sum­ing. I’m wait­ing for things to feel like they’ve “opened up.” I’ve moved whole chap­ters, small scenes, bit and pieces…weeded words and sen­tences along the way…imagining what this sto­ry could be if I can just get all the right things in the right places in the right way.

I’ve ripped out ellipses (which is like purslane/spurge in my writing—it’s every­where!) Points of view and the time­line have changed sev­er­al times. All along the way, I’ve plant­ed love­ly bits of color—like the annu­als in a garden—so as to have pock­ets beau­ty and not despair at the mess of the whole.

When I get frus­trat­ed, I go out to the gar­den. There’s noth­ing like walk­ing through that screen door—it’s a def­i­nite thresh­old to a dif­fer­ent place. As I water and weed, pick and pro­tect, the nov­el­ist-brain often loosens, show­ing me what to do next with the chaot­ic knot­ted up chapters.

I’ve had to grow into gardening—it doesn’t come as nat­u­ral­ly to me as it does to my husband—but I’m begin­ning to think of it as an inte­gral part of my writ­ing process. The skills are so sim­i­lar: imag­i­na­tion to see what could be, dai­ly work, con­stant weed­ing and dead­head­ing, let­ting things com­post, mov­ing things around, pock­ets of love­li­ness amidst the tran­si­tion­ing pieces…. No won­der so many writ­ers are gardeners!

I hate to see it go—this year espe­cial­ly, as it sig­nals our return to a more soli­tary indoor life. But I hope to hold onto the inspi­ra­tion it pro­vides this win­ter as I keep weed­ing and plant­i­ng and mov­ing things around in the nov­el, if not the dirt. Onward & Upward In The Nov­el, I say!

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