A Special Type of Earthship: Gardening At The Dragon’s Gate by Wendy Johnson

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I should have known by the front cover what intriguing mysteries awaited. The matte cover is a lush green-yellow with a vine unfurling on one side – the promise of new life. Yes, the fact that it has a matte cover did score some points with me! (If you’ve read my previous reviews you will recall that I am partial to matte book covers…) The sub-title proclaims the theme as ‘At Work in the Wild and Cultivated World’ – a wonderful synonym for how gardens really grow and how life actually is.

I found myself transported to a world that I had no idea still existed – but, isn’t that what books are supposed to do? Yes I suppose it is, but I had not anticipated that this reference book, also a memoir, would be so potent. Like the fertilizer Johnson speaks of so glowingly, the book brought forth childhood memories of playing in nature up from the depths of my memory banks. I found myself wistful as I wondered what it would have been like growing up in that magical place.

Originally, I bought this book hoping to find some answers to common organic gardening questions and found a unique approach to the circle of life through the author. Johnson, the master gardener at Green Gulch Farm & Zen Center in Northern California gives an intriguing glimpse of life both at a commune and a Zen center. I found myself led down garden paths and through multi-tiered plots of plants of all kinds. Feeling like the apprentice I surely would be known as, if I happened to volunteer my time during harvest season, I followed close not wanting to get lost in the lush vegetation. Not to worry though, just as I thought the greenery was too overwhelming, Johnson gently but firmly guides novice gardeners (and readers) back onto the gravel path.

The book is structured brilliantly. Johnson’s memories, stories and gardening philosophy are perfect segues into chapters of reference material. This is one book that – even an avid reader like myself – cannot be digested in one sitting. Not unlike a good compost pile, it must be assimilated, turned and broken down into little bits.

This one’s a keeper and not one to store on the shelf either. This one is meant to be taken out to the garden itself; pages open to the sun, providing reference while turning the soil.

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