Russ Colson’s Little Book of Gardening in Northwest Minnesota (Create Space, 2017) is a spare, insightful meditation on garden philosophy, with some how-to on the side to keep the reader grounded. It’s the kind of book many devoted gardeners wish they could write to express what they have gained from creating and nurturing a garden.
Colson, a professor of geology at Minnesota State Univeristy-Moorhead who gardens on a rural property outside of Hawley, MN, is a precise writer. Having a vision for what your garden is to you and what you hope it will share with others is a first step in knowing where your garden journey will take you, he says. So is naming the garden. Colson and his wife, Mary, call their garden Plum Hill and have names for its parts, too, such as the Time Machine Trail, the Sunset Trail, the Vining Maze or the Prayer Labyrinth. Here’s Colson’s vision for his garden:
A garden should stir a sense of wonder. It should motivate the young to explore, the mature to create and the old to find God. It should invite sensations of journey, discovery, mystery, reflection and peace. The Plum Hill Gardens are not meant to be viewing gardens, like a formal pattern one sees from a high window or from the street while passing, but rather they are meant to be walked, explored, experienced.
Colson believes in the value of a personal garden, one where garden elements “remind you of stories, people and events that are meaningful to you.” For Colson, this means a garden with objects from his youth, hand-made decorative stones, and the labyrinth he designed and laid himself. He describes how some of these items are made, and encourages readers to make their own personal objects for their gardens.
As someone who lives in northern Minnesota, where winters can be long and dark, Colson devotes an entire chapter to “Holding Back the Darkness,” by which he means more than just the relentless wind of the prairie or nights that last 16 hours. Here’s what he says:
A garden exists at the twilight between the spiritual and the earthly, but we can also describe a garden as lying at the frontier between turmoil and tranquility, form and formlessness, wild and tame. A garden exists only so long as we are successful at keeping entropy at bay. It is always just a small step from chaos.
A Little Book of Gardening in Northwest Minnesota is a little book—just over 100 pages, but it’s a deep book, too, with passages you will want to mark and read again. It’s illustrated with many color photographs by Russ and Mary Colson, many of which celebrate the cold and light of northern Minnesota.