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Gardens of Awe and Folly by Vivian Swift
A Traveler’s Guide on the Meaning of Life and Gardens

Looking for a book to take you on a journey to gardens for inspiration and beauty? Read on for Linda Holt’s review of Gardens of Awe and Folly by Vivan Swift!

Linda Holt

Gardens of Awe and Folly by Vivian Swift
A Traveler’s Guide on the Meaning of Life and Gardens

For those of us that find meaning in life when getting down on all fours to play in our gardens, Minnesota winters and major surgeries can be equally frustrating and boring. That is where I found myself this past March and April. You remember the winter and the snow that would never end? To top it off, I was laid up with a total knee replacement and confined to a recliner. Never the one to sit still except when reading, I decided to plunge into a book about gardens I may never see and discover what meaning it held for me in the present time and predicament. 

The Gardens of Awe and Folly was just what I needed to spirit me away from my current circumstances. Nine very different and diverse gardens from Paris to Key West, Marrakech to New Orleans, Long Island to London and Rio De Janeiro to a winter garden in Edinburgh are gorgeously portrayed in soothing watercolors, while her vivid descriptions regal the rich history of each garden and the ones who came to own them. Her summations of each garden include a “gardening tip”. As an example, when she sums up the Paris Garden: Square du Vert-Galant located in the middle of the Seine, she states that “when considering our own gardens in light of this Paris small public garden, our own piece of the earth may not seem so small”. 

The author gets a bit political when introducing the Australian Pine, a native found on the coastline of the Tasmanian Sea. When in Fort Zach Beach, located in Key West, you can’t help but hear the “rallying cry” of “Save our Pines” at public protests as FL bureaucrats declare them an invasive species. Yet Swift points out many of Florida’s favorite trees interestingly “do not come from FL”. 

This is only a small fraction of the author’s garden reflections on her travels. But I will leave it to you to enjoy on your bad weather day. As for me, I hugged my afghan closer on that cold March day and watched the growing mound of snow gather outside my window, silently thanking all gardeners everywhere and especially Vivian Swift, for the warmth and beauty of a well told story and its ability to place me on the garden bench in the middle of it all. 

The following gardening tip for the Rio de Janeiro Garden sums up her work very well (and I cannot say this better than the author herself) so I quote: 

“No matter how grand or minuscule, every garden has a meaning all its own; but every garden, everywhere, has a common reason for being, in that it was made in homage to this wondrous Earth that has given life to every Eden we’ve ever imagined.” 

The bit of interesting information that I learned about the Author: Vivian Swift, is that she is neither a gardener nor a grower of indoor plants, yet she wrote and hand painted this wonderful book about Gardens. She calls it a travel memoir, a personal journey to 9 different gardens where she looks at context a bit differently than a gardener may. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I hope you do too.

Photo Credit: Gardens of Awe and Folly by Vivian Swift Book Cover (1)

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