Shelley Boyd’s compelling new study, Garden Plots: Canadian Women Writers and Their Literary Gardens (McGill-Queen’s University Press), looks at the garden as a site of creativity, resourcefulness and gender reform, in the work of five notable women writers. Literary metaphors abound in the garden, where narrative plot doubles as garden plot, and where palimpsests are everywhere, in the layers of garden mulch and in the gendered narratives it contains.
Boyd’s subjects are women working both in and ahead of their times. She explores the nuances of femininity, taste, class and culture that take shape in early written accounts by the Canadian sisters Susanna Moodie and Catharine Parr Traill, who attempt to transplant British garden ideals in their new wild frontier; and in Gabrielle Roy’s representations of the cottage bower as both a flowery refuge and a site of creative production. Boyd examines how Carol Shields reclaims the domestic sphere in her writing on women’s everyday suburban experiences in the home and garden, and the poet Lorna Crozier straddles the intersection of writing, gardening and feminist revision in her subversive poems about the sexual agency of vegetables.
Garden Plots is more literary analysis than biography, but for these five authors, life and writing are profoundly intertwined. Boyd’s study is a testament to this observation, and the book is sprinkled with images of the authors’ cottage gardens, flower pressings and portraits.
A poetic and insightful analysis, Garden Plots will inspire a fresh interest in reading (or rereading) the works of these influential writers.