Fern House:
A Year in an Artist's Garden

by Deborah Schenck; text by Lauri Berkenkamp

Chroniclle Books LLC, 2001. ISBN 0811828352.
Reviewed by Lee Ambrose
Posted on 08/03/2004

Nonfiction: Nature/Place/Environment

Deborah Schenck was born in England. Surrounded by country gardens for much of her life, she promised herself that one day she would have a garden of her own. A photographer since her college years, she has spent much of her adult life capturing the gifts of nature on film.

Lauri Berkenkanp has written for magazines and newspapers throughout the United States and is the author of several books. Like Schenck, she resides in Vermont. In Fern House, she works with Schenck's thoughts, artwork and photographs to provide a reflective and quiet journey through the gardens and the seasons.

The 19th century home in Vermont provides the perfect enviroment to showcase Schenck's love of gardens. Fern House is a journal in words and pictures of the first year in the old home. Readers catch a glimpse of the garden complete with weeds as well as colorful blooms during each of the four seasons.

Schenck's illustrations and photographs are able to transplant the reader to the starkness of winter, the muddy Vermont spring, the bountiful summer, and the autumn kissed trees and flowers of fall.

Not only does she portray the contents of her garden with vivid, pleasing-to-the-senses detail, but she somehow manages to allow the reader to actually experience the season right along with her and her garden. Every human sense is stimulated and challenged while reading this unique book. It is impossible to turn the page without smelling the "heady scent of lilac bushes" or the fresh mint from the herb garden. I challenge the reader to not feel the autumn air or the summer's warmth. Listening through the book brings the sounds of native birds, the relaxing flow of water at the pond, and the crunch of fresh snow. Colors and textures leap off the page.

Because I have lived in Southwest Florida for nearly thirty years, I have on more than one occasion been heard to announce how much my soul longs for the change of seasons. Reading this book, savoring the descriptions and visual delights were a true gift to my soul. I came away from the reading experience feeling refreshed, renewed and in awe of nature's hold on our souls. It was the closest thing to really being "in" the seasonal changes as I have been in quite some time.

Come along with me as I highlight a favorite passage from each of the four seasons in Schenck's garden.

Winter: "The maples that line our garden remind me of old women dancing. They bow and swar and whisper to the paper birches that flank them as the wind blows through their bare branches."

Spring: "Spring seems to blossom overnight. Every morning I wake to find the world a bit greener than the day before. The apple trees are now in full bloom, their branches all but hidden under a canopy of pink and white. When the wind blows, showers of sweet-smelling petals drift in the air."

Summer: "Daisies and black-eyed susans are happy travelers, popping up everywhere where there is lots of sun. Originally prairie flowers, they are a cheerful reminder that no matter how carefully I plan my garden, Mother Nature has her own ideas about where flowers should bloom."

Autumn: "We have put the gardens to bed with a feeling just short of regret—I'm ready to spend less time gardening for now, but I have so enjoyed this summer that it's hard for me to let it go."

Whether you are a gardener, a photographer, a journaler, or of other creative mind, this book is one to treasure and to re-read any time your soul longs to be reminded of the beauty of nature and the wonder of the seasons.

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