If You Want to be Happy Forever, Make a Garden: The Quirky Guide to Making Gardens and Understanding Plants is the title of my first book, now finished and starting to test its wings on my newly published website.
I know that the title is uncomfortably long, and a professional editor may want to cut it into more palatable pieces before serving. It’s a rather unusual gardening book, to say the least, and I wrote it in record time–it took me only 40 years!
Here’s a taste from the introduction, which I call Better Read This First, so you can’t say I didn’t warn you. I open with a proverb:
If you want to be happy for an hour, get drunk.
If you want to be happy for three days, get married.
If you want to be happy for a week, kill your pig and eat it.
But if you want to be happy forever, make a garden.
–ancient Chinese proverb
This book is about making gardens. Therefore, according to the ancients, it’s also about happiness. Yes, I stole the title from the Chinese—if you don’t tell them, I won’t either. It will be our little secret.
When I started writing it in the last millennium, I envisioned a manual of sorts, a compilation of data and non-botanical technical knowledge I had amassed over what now has become a half-century odyssey throughout the archipelago of the horticultural arts and sciences. Ho hum, right? That primordial variant of this book was intended to help people make and tend gardens and landscapes; but, pitifully, the first draft was nakedly informational—all decent people to behold it averted their eyes. It was emotionless, somber and encyclopedic, stuffed with data, mathematics and over-ripened ennui. Writing it bored me nearly to death.
In my heart I knew that I could help people make gardens, but I feared that if I stayed the data-centric course, the book would be relegated to the company of dictionaries and their ilk, on shelves musty and long forgotten. Face it, you know how casually people use reference books. I want our relationship to have a little spark and not be limited to the old in & out, with you just coming to the book when you need to cherry-pick a formula or leer at my tables; then you would never call and wouldn’t come knocking until the next time you succumbed to some seasonal lust for information. Shame on you, but this book will help you sort out and manage your baser horticultural urges.
I suppose that it all turned out for the better, because the bones of that early draft made a suitable skeleton for the reconstructed guide before you now. All that remained was to flesh it out to suit my fancy. You may find that in doing so I granted myself a smidgen too much creative license. So be it. There is only so much that can be said about some things, yet I failed to let that stop me…
William J. Caplinger