Willa Cather's Ecological Imagination

By Susan J. Rosowski | Go to book overview

Character, Compromise, and
Idealism in Willa Cather's Gardens

MARK A. R. FACKNITZ

In the early pages of The Song of the Lark Willa Cather establishes the garden, that intensively humanized parcel of nature, as a deeply informative figure. Here it appears to the novel's protagonist:

As Thea approached the house she peeped between the pink sprays of the tamarisk hedge and saw the professor and Mrs. Kohler in the garden, spading and raking. The garden looked like a relief-map now, and gave no indication of what it would be in August; such a jungle! Pole beans and potatoes and corn and leeks and kale and red cabbage—there would even be vegetables for which there is no American name. Mrs. Kohler was always getting by mail packages of seeds from Freeport and from the old country. Then the flowers! There were big sunflowers for the canary bird, tiger lilies and phlox and zinnias and lady's slippers and portulaca and hollyhocks—giant hollyhocks. Besides the fruit trees there was a great umbrella-shaped catalpa, and a balm-of-Gilead, two lindens, and even a ginkgo—a rigid, pointed tree with leaves shaped like butterflies, which shivered, but never bent to the wind. (23)

The Kohlers' garden, packed as it is with plants and flowers from Europe, Asia, and northeastern America, prospers at the margins of the great southwestern desert through dint of a human— partially deranged—desire. The relief map that Cather's garden provides for her readers charts the contours of sensibility, narra

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