A gardener’s pandemic journal that combines memoir with an exploration of the natural world both inside and outside the garden.
In March 2020, Margot Anne Kelley was watching seeds germinate in her greenhouse. At high risk from illness, the planning, planting, and tending to seedlings took on extra significance. She set out to make her pandemic garden thrive but also to better understand the very nature of seeds and viruses.
As seeds became seedlings, became plants, became food, Kelley looks back over the last few millennia as successions of pandemics altered human beings and global culture. Seeds and viruses serve as springboards for wide-ranging reflections, such as their shared need for someone to transport them, the centrality of movement to being alive, and the domestication of plants as an act of becoming co-dependent.
Pandemic viruses only occurred through humankind’s settling down, taking up agriculture, and giving up a nomadic life. And yet it’s the garden that now provides a refuge and a source of life, inspiration, and hope. A Gardener at the End of the World explores questions of what we can preserve—of history, genetic biodiversity, culture, language—and what we cannot. It is for any reader curious about the overlap of nature, science, and history.
Praise for A Gardener at the End of the World
“Kelley transforms musings about a gardening hobby into a rich—and richly instructive—historical journey through human history. An eloquent and thought-provoking narrative.”
“This book is a growing thing, concerned with the sounds a house makes as it wakes from winter dormancy, with ‘the music of moisture softening a seed coat, of germ expanding, growing so plump the coat eventually cracks.’ In A Gardener at the End of the World, Margot Anne Kelley grows onions and potatoes, melons and herbs, daffodils and word histories and the stories of life during a plague year. Like Janisse Ray’s The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food, this book is a journey through space and time to discover how humans and plants have shaped each other. I’ll never look at a loaf of bread the same way after reading Kelley’s lovely ode to Red Fife wheat. Kitchen gardens are stocked with histories, and Kelley reminds us to share and savor those stories lest they vanish.”
—Joni Tevis, author of The World Is On Fire
“More than merely a gardener’s journal of the plague year, Margot Anne Kelley’s meditations on plant histories and plagues, written in the face of the 2020 pandemic, make the intertwined histories of human endeavor and of our basic food staples seem at once precarious, miraculous, and ultimately beautiful. In Kelley’s hands, the carrot, the tomato, the apple all become luminous records of human trade, reminding us that our desires and our diseases—our beauty and the banes we seek to abolish—are inextricably entwined. This is a rich book—one to savor.”
—Tess Taylor, author of Work & Days and editor of Leaning Toward Light: Poems for Gardens and the Hands that Tend Them