nichepoetryandprose

poetry and prose about place

garden escapes: starting a project

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This summer, one of my main occupations will be to work on a collection of poems about garden escapes.  Specifically, this means abandoned gardens, plants left behind when homes or communities are abandoned. This work is being supported by a Creations Grant from artsnb.

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I have a short mantra to refer to these abandoned plants: “die, thrive or escape.” In a way, the project theme can be used as a metaphor for any abandonment. For example, when someone abandons a relationship, the one left behind can languish, or pick up and start over, or just leave, find a place to start over. I will be watching for these metaphors throughout my project.

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For today, I have to arrange my materials and get started with a plan for my project.

  • To start I have my grant application (outlines what I intend to do), a bit of reconnaissance work I did in 2018 to develop some ideas for the project, six blog posts from that time and eight older poems that fit the theme.
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orange day-lilies, found in many of new Brunswick’s ditches, are escapes from older gardens

  • To identify abandoned communities, I can refer to information sources and databases developed by others:  the Facebook pages Abandoned New Brunswick  and New Brunswick Upon Days Faded where interested people post photos and short anecdotes about abandoned houses and buildings; the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick website called Place Names of New Brunswick: Where is Home? New Brunswick Communities Past and Present https://archives.gnb.ca/Exhibits/Communities/Home.aspx?culture=en-CA; additional information on communities will be available in Census Records at https://www.ancestry.ca/; various maps including the New Brunswick Atlas (Second Edition); Google Earth and the associated Street View; maps posted in the Facebook page New Brunswick Upon Days Faded; the Walling Map of 1862 which I have used in other projects, F. Walling, Topographical Map of the Counties of St. John and Kings New Brunswick: From Actual Surveys under the direction of H. F. Walling (Publishers W.E. and A.A. Baker, New York, 1862); and, the Monograph about place-names in New Brunswick, Ganong, William F. A Monograph of the Place-Nomenclature of the Province of New Brunswick. Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada: Second Series 1896-97, Volume II, Section II. 1896.
sample Walling map

a sample of the Walling Map for an area in Kings County, New Brunswick. The map shows individual buildings and houses from 1862.

  • For anecdotal stories about the gardeners and their gardens, I plan to use the resources of the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick since often diaries and other documents contain amazing bits of information about New Brunswick history. Obtaining anecdotal information about abandoned gardens is tricky during the time of COVID-19 since social distancing means ordinary interviewing is not easy.  I will use the websites above to obtain some information and, where possible, talk to people I encounter. I will create a Facebook Page called Abandoned New Brunswick Gardens to obtain some of these stories.
  • For plant identification, I have my own skills as a botanist and my trusty guides: Harold R. Hinds, Flora of New Brunswick, Second Edition: A Manual for Identification of the Vascular Plants of New Brunswick, University of New Brunswick, 2000; A. E. Roland and E. C. Smith, The Flora of Nova Scotia, Nova Scotia Museum, 1969; Roger Tory Peterson and Margaret McKenny, A Field Guide to Flowers of Northeastern and North-central North America, 1968; and the website The Plant List: A Working List of all Plant Species (this is to verify plants names since I use older plant guides). http://www.theplantlist.org/

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My methodology is simple:

  1. identify possible abandoned homes and communities and create an efficient plan to visit these places
  2. drive to these locations and look for plant species that may be garden remnants
  3. photograph the sites and plants
  4. make notes about the sites, the plants encountered and various sensations encountered (sight, smell, taste, touch and sound)
  5. do pencil drawings of some plants and locations
  6. obtain any anecdotal or archived information about the former communities, their gardens and their gardeners
  7. write the poems using all the information collected

I am going to write mostly free verse but I will also use some poetic forms, for example the ghazal and the pantoum.

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Sounds like fun!

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Viper’s bugloss (Echium vulgare) is an introduced plant in New Brunswick.  These are plants found on the New Ireland Road in Albert County, New Brunswick. In 1866, there were 68 families in the community (Source: NB Archives); today all the houses are gone.

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I will keep you up to date on my adventures and show you some of the plants I find. If you know of any abandoned gardens in New Brunswick, or abandoned communities, please let me know! I will acknowledge you in my book!

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This work is supported by a Creation Grant from artsnb (the New Brunswick Arts Board)!

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All my best,

stay safe,

Jane

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