Four Tenths of an Acre

Reflections on a Gardening Life

Finding herself at a crossroads after a divorce, writer Laurie Lisle packed up her Manhattan apartment and headed for literally greener pastures in rural Connecticut. There, in a pre-Revolutionary New England village, she discovered a historic house set upon a long, narrow piece of land--and immediately knew the property had to be hers.

Four Tenths of an Acre is the story of how the author turned this bare, enclosed plot of land into her own miniature Eden. It is also a personal account of how she created a fuller life for herself in the country. As she planted and weeded in a difficult climate, often with the help of her mother, a gifted gardener, she gradually found balance and purpose in her work and in love.

Written with warmth and grace, this series of linked essays offers a thoughtful meditation on the natural world; a portrait of writers and artists who garden; a view of past and present gardening rituals in a traditional New England town; and ultimately the story of finding personal fulfillment in nature.

"As gardeners try to give shape to nature, Lisle's book does to a life, which is as challenging, complex and resistant to order as a garden. Her work will satisfy armchair gardeners as well as those already elbow-deep in dirt"--Publishers Weekly





Laurie writes:
"The rituals of gardening give a rhythm, even rapture, to everyday life, that is apart from the routines of writing and the flows of relationships. Tending my garden became the same as taking care of myself."

When I fled the city for the country, I was so eager to buy a certain old clapboard house on the green of a historic New England village, that I didn't notice the awkward shape of the backyard. When I saw the surveyor's map, I was shocked at how very long and narrow a rectangle it was on paper. I wondered how I could turn such an awful shape into a graceful garden.

In the following growing seasons, as I dug up rocks, planted, and weeded, trying all the time to soften the straight edges of my yard, I dug into my feelings about love and loss, work and play, roots and rootlessness, solitude and sociability.

As the seasons went by, my small plot of earth made perfect sense to me and responded to my touch. It taught me a few lessons easily and others slowly, as I gradually became aware of the intertwined growth of the garden and the gardener.

Eventually I began to write the intimate essays in this book around such topics as "Weather," "Color," "Woods," and "Shadows,"making connections between myself, village life, and the natural world. In "Roots," I write about the female gardeners in my family and whether I have exiled myself in a floral cage. In "Sharon" I trace the gardening history of my pre-Revolutionary town with tensions between natives and newcomers.

"Words" contrasts the easy pleasure of gardening with the more elusive satisfaction of writing, and it examines the role of the garden in the lives of writers like Emily Dickinson and Edith Wharton. "Woods" describes the dramatic demarcation point between nature acted upon and nature left alone. In "Outside" I write about battling deer and the mature garden that has grown up around me.

As I weed and water day after day, I have learned that damage done by nature is often undone by nature itself. Although at moments I have worried that I was too deeply rooted in a small place, I now know that being well-grounded has made me feel freer. Working the soil has brought me back to my own nature.

Laurie's interview on the radio program, "Between the Covers:"







Laurie Lisle is a journalist, biographer, and essayist who gardens in Litchfield County in northwestern Connecticut.


This is what my cutting garden looks like in June when the peonies bloom

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