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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Jamaica Kincaid's Garden Continued

Air Date: Week of


CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. With me is Jamaica Kincaid, and we're talking about her new book. It's called My Garden (Book): Let's go out into your garden.

KINCAID: Very well.

CURWOOD: And if we go out into your garden, I find a number of plants, don't I, that ordinarily don't grow in southern Vermont, in Zone 5, right?

KINCAID: Well, that would be true. One of them would be my Franklinia, named after Benjamin Franklin by a botanist and plants man named William Bartram. John and William. I think William is the father and John the son. But this tree called Franklinia -- I may have gotten them backwards -- but this tree called Franklinia, it's a shrub, was only seen in the wild by the Bartrams. Apparently, all the Franklinias in the world that are in cultivation now are descended from that one tree that he first grew. So yeah, that would be something you wouldn't find in a Zone 5, or you wouldn't find someone in a Zone 5 garden attempting to grow it. But I always like to do that. I always like to attempt things that people will say you can't do, you can't do, that will never do here.

CURWOOD: Do you have plants from your native Antigua that you try to grow in Vermont?

KINCAID: Yes, but of course I have to bring them in. I actually have a couple of bulbs, a native of the amaryllis family, and it's grown mostly on top of graves in Antigua. And my brother died in 1996, and I was tending his grave. And they just grow all over the graveyard, and the graveyards in Antigua are not very well taken care of. And I brought back a couple of those bulbs, and one of them bloomed, which was very surprising. And then I grew all these different witch hazels.

CURWOOD: Witch hazel? (Kincaid laughs) Have you tried banana?

KINCAID: (Laughs) I do have a moussa, Lord Cavendish, that I bring in, too. Moussa is banana in Latin. When I first started to garden I said, "I will never learn the Latin names of anything. It's so pretentious." And I made this vow with a friend of mine that we would never learn the Latin names. And then without being able to help myself, I did learn the Latin names, and I've never told her.

CURWOOD: (Laughs) Now, your book is broken up in to sections here. Some of them are about the seasons. So I have to ask you, do you have a favorite season in the garden?

KINCAID: Yes. Spring.

CURWOOD: Spring.

KINCAID: Absolutely my favorite. When things are just coming in. I wish spring would last for six months. A rather long, slow spring. And then an equally long summer, and then a longish fall. And winter would be one day.

CURWOOD: One day of winter. That's generous. I thought you would have said ten minutes.

KINCAID: (Laughs) No, no. One day would be enough.

CURWOOD: You really don't like winter, do you? I'm wondering if you could just read from your book there, on page 60, where you talk about winter coming and the snow.

KINCAID: (Reads) It was a day in late October, and I had $2,000 worth of heirloom bulbs to place in the ground. The daffodils, Empress of Ireland, Beersheba, Beryl, Telmonius plenus, Queen of the North; The tulips, ‘Mrs. John Scheepers’ Queen of the Night, when almost one foot of snow fell on the ground. I do not like winter or anything that represents it. Snow, the bare branches of trees, the earth seeming to hold its breath. But snow will occupy all the spaces you know, the spaces above the ground, the space below the ground. And if you turn inward, as long as it is in front of you, it will occupy that space, too. For me to look at a landscape covered with this substance is to look at despair, and I cannot find anything in the history of human beings to make me feel that my view is merely personal. I grew up on an island in a climate that is tropical, and therefore I am prejudiced. All I see when I look at the history of human beings is that people who find themselves living with this substance, snow, and the stilled landscape that comes with it, go south or long for the warmth that comes from living in the southern hemisphere. I feel that I can state this with some certainty only after helping my son make a map of the travels of Eric the Red and Lucky Leif Erikson. This is the evidence I have for my feelings, but my own history contradicts this. I come from south, far south. I come from the West Indies, of where I now liVe. And I love the event called spring, and accept that it comes after winter. And that it cannot come without winter.

CURWOOD: Now, during the winter, you spend a lot time going over those seed catalogues, huh? (Kincaid laughs) Are there any that you recommend? I mean, what makes a good seed catalogue?

KINCAID: Oh. The best catalogues, as I say again and again, are usually the ones that have no beautiful pictures. They just have the entry, the plants man's prose. To see them express right about these plants, it's as if the grocer had to write about the different butter. There are catalogues to recommend. My favorite, all-time favorite, would be the Herons Wood catalogue by a man named Daniel Hinkley. They're in Kingston, Washington. His catalogue you have to get just for the prose alone. He's a writer also and a plants man, in the sense that almost everything he offers he's collected the seeds himself in the wild, and grown and tried.

CURWOOD: We don't have much time, but I have to ask you.


CURWOOD: Do you have any gardening tips for our listeners?

KINCAID: (Laughs) Yes. Grow what you like and then see -- not just what you like. Grow what you love, and then see how it works. See how it survives. See if you and the thing you are growing will be friends. But the best thing is never to listen to anyone, including me.

CURWOOD: My guest has been Jamaica Kincaid. Her book is My Garden -- parentheses -- Book -- close parentheses -- and a colon. Thank you.

KINCAID: Thank you.



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