The Dancer’s Garden by Leslie Friedman (The Lively Foundation, 2019)
This is a wonderful, quirky, perky series of ruminations on gardens, flowers, plants, trees, cats, people, indeed life. It has magnificent photographs mostly taken by the author herself but also some by her husband, the distinguished photographer and printer, Jonathan Clark, the proprietor of that fine private press, appropriately named The Artichoke Press. Leslie herself, a member of the Institute, is well-known primarily as a dancer and choreographer but is also a fine historian. Some years ago, to an extent sidelined by hip problems, she decided to turn more attention to her garden in Mountain View. In this delightful book she tells us about the various growing things, mostly flowers, that she deals with, their characteristics, difficulties and rewards. She and Jonathan expand their horizons, coping with so many growing things, not only flowers but pine, apple, and orange trees. They rescue abandoned cacti from the neighborhood. The author has an amazingly direct way of dealing with what she is putting into the earth, the satisfactions and beauty (so wonderfully captured in the photographs) when they flourish; the sadness when they die. She makes being a gardener such an immediate, connected, and personal matter.
In the text, Leslie recounts her adventures with a wide range of growing things, most vividly oxalis, chrysanthemums, poppies, narcissus, camellias, primroses, magnolia, all beautifully illustrated. She is very insightful on how to deal with all these and other growing objects, and how they can be menaced by birds, notably crows, as well as by cats, humans, too much water and too little water. There is such a splendid sense of engagement with the ambitious enterprise of having a garden. As she writes towards the end of the text about fruit (but it may be about any of the myriad aspects of nature that she has nurtured): “When I had acquired my first new hip, my first foray into the garden was to see the apple blossoms. The apples would arrive later than the peaches. The oranges come when we run out of apples. We change partners, but it is the same dance.” Leslie Friedman has choreographed a garden and other growing things much as she has both performed and created dance. As she concludes her book: “It is a wonder.” It is an exhilarating read. Peter Stansky, Frances & Charles Field Professor of History, Emeritus, Stanford University. Professor Stansky is the author of many books, most recent is Leonard Woolf: Bloomsbury Socialist ( Oxford University Press, 2019) with co-author, Fred Leventhal This review appeared in the journal of the Institute of Historical Studies, Vol. 39, No. 2, Fall, 2019