cover image My Garden

My Garden

Jamaica Kincaid. Farrar Straus Giroux, $23 (229pp) ISBN 978-0-374-28186-1

""I wanted a garden that looked like something I had in my mind's eye, but exactly what that might be I did not know and even now do not know."" Celebrated novelist Kincaid (The Autobiography of My Mother) should delight fans of her fiction and connoisseurs of the literature of horticulture with this personable and brightly descriptive, if somewhat rambling, book-length essay, most of it about her own garden in Vermont. Kincaid (who last year edited the anthology My Favorite Plant) shuttles constantly and with ease between the practical, technical difficulties of gardening and the larger meanings it makes available. She asks herself why her new weeping wisterias won't look right on her stone terrace; why her Carpinus betulus Pendula looks so lonely amid poppies and ""late-blooming monkshood""; what's wrong with roses, and what's good about Blue Lake green beans; and how to stack up stones. But she also coaxes from her plot of earth more philosophical and psychological questions--inquiries about geography, heritage, marriage, motherhood, power; ""how to make a house a home""; whether and for whom ""to name is to possess."" Kincaid's Antiguan upbringing recurs as a point of comparison, a source of political insights and a focus of nostalgia: ""it dawned on me that the garden I was making... resembled a map of the Caribbean and the sea that surrounds it."" A botany-centered trip to Kunming, China, gives the last chapter a welcome change of scene. Kincaid, her publisher and their designers have made of her meditations a remarkably attractive physical object, suffused outside and in by shades of green and decorated throughout with illustrations by Jill Fox. (Dec.)