Mar 21, 2010

Focused Attention: Dominique Browning and Anna Pavord

Wave Hill's Horticultural Lecture Series - March 17, 2010
Slow Love:  How I Got Knocked off the Fast Track, Put on My Pajamas for a Year and Found Happiness (Publication date: May 2010)

New York Botanical Garden- March 18, 2010

What do these two women with in common?

They are both story tellers.  Dominique Browning's story is her own life in transformation:  from high-powered editing to slow living.  For Ann Pavord, plants, specifically bulbs, are the subject matter of her stories.  Pavord is interested in the whole package, from discovery to voyage to planting.

Browning spoke on Tuesday night as part of the Wave Hill Horticultural Lecture Series.  Her saga has become an all too common one:  lost her job, went into a tailspin and came out the other end with a different life.  Her new book, Slow Love recounts her journey:  which includes leaving a garden of 25 years and making a new one.

"I started wearing glasses as a child, when I was diagnosed as near-sighted.  I believe, I developed a habit of looking closely at things."  As her life unraveled, this habit of observing became a strategy for living...and gardening.

Browning talked about the idea of a long minute.  "Nothing to do is the place where hope begins to be possible."  Not worrying about failure is the guiding principle of her new way of gardenomg.  No grand design.  No overall scheme.  Simply put:  starting with a plant and seeing where it takes you.

If there is anyone on the planet, who has started with a plant and seen where it takes her, it is Anna Pavord.  Pavord became famous for her book, Tulip.  Followed in 2009 by Bulb.  Both are exhaustive tomes.  Pavord is interested in the back-story of plants.  Where plants come from, how they got their names, their personalities, native habitat and who were the people who brought these plants to the "new world."

I don't know if there is something in the water in Great Britain or the genes, but British gardeners have a way of talking about plants that draws you in.  It's beyond enthusiasm.  It's as if deep observation of nature is part of their DNA.  Does living in a small country make you concentrate on what's beneath your feet more?

Whether Anna Pavord is talking about an exotic South African lilly or an ordinary iris, her tone is the same.  "Bulbs are the best kind of dinner guests.  They are the first to greet you and the first to leave.  Who could ask for more?"  It's that wonderful way of characterizing an aspect of bulbs that many people don't treasure, that gives Pavord her unique voice.

In some ways, I can't think of any two women so different in their approach.  Browning's obsession with self; documenting the slightest quiver in her mind.  Pavord's self her power of regarding attentively backed up by phenomenal research.

Browning spoke on Wednesday evening;  Pavord on Thursday afternoon.  At the end of Pavord's talk she asked if anyone in the audience had any questions.  A hand was raised.  Dominique Browning stood and asked Pavord, "I understand you moved to a new house, did you take any plants with you?'  Pavord, "Just two."

Part I
Photograph of Dominique Browning by Francis Palmer
Photography of Anna Pavord from the Telegraph