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Main page » Non-Fiction » Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition

Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition


Drawing from sources religious, literary and scholarly, Italian literature professor Harrison examines the human quest for happiness through centuries of gardens and gardeners, both real and fictional: "For millennia and throughout world cultures, our predecessors conceived of human happiness in its perfected state as a garden existence." Gardens have provided education, creative expression and sanctuary throughout time, yet are "by nature impermanent creations that only rarely leave behind evidence of their existence." Epicurus was among those who taught by means of the garden, cultivating patience in his followers: "a serene acceptance of both what is given and what is withheld by life in the present." Other subjects include Homer, Camus, Dante and Boccaccio; what gardens in the Bible and the Qur'an say about attitudes toward life and afterlife; and the difficulty of perception in the modern world ("We live in an age... that makes it increasingly difficult to see what is right in front of us"). A fitting follow-up to The Dominion of the Dead, his thoughtful look at mortality, Harrison's latest will give gardeners and nature-lovers a fascinating historical tour and a deeper appreciation for the craft: "Neither consumption nor productivity fulfills. Only caretaking does."


In contemplating gardens, Harrison references works of literature to provide much perceptiveness about the human predicament. Gardening and actual gardens appear but fleetingly to limn larger ideas Harrison discerns in literary creations’ representations of gardens, including the biblical Eden. A superbly refined writer, Harrison regards care as a supreme attribute of the human relationship to gardens, in two senses. First, gardens are sanctuaries from worry and anxiety, and second, gardens are arenas of cultivation. Caretaking, whether literally of plants or figuratively of personal relationships and of the natural world, draws Harrison into epic poetry, Boccaccio’s The Decameron, and Andrew Marvell’s The Garden. The concept of the university as a pedagogical garden (Harrison is a professor) inspires the author’s discussion of Plato’s original grove of academe, while the garden as a refuge from modernism informs his consideration of certain twentieth-century poems and novels. Growth and decay, life and death, the purposes of human striving––such fundamental ruminations prompted by gardens receive a profoundly humanistic appreciation from Harrison, also the author of the comparable Forests

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Tags: throughout, human, Gardens, existence, happiness, Essay