By Leslie Barker | Photos by Kim Leeson ~
If you’re worried about the pandemic that seems never-ending, Rebecca Winn knows where to look for peace.
If you’re wondering what role you have in this world, Rebecca Winn can help you unearth it.
If you’re feeling especially grateful and want to shout it from the rooftops, Rebecca Winn knows where you’ll always have an audience.
If you’re looking for wonder — oh, my, Rebecca Winn knows where you need to immerse yourself.
She’s asked the questions, and learned the answer to each is one and the same:
“I think a lot of people miss the miraculous in life,” the Dallas gardening maven, landscape artist, purveyor of all things growing and, most recently, author, said.
Her memoir, One Hundred Daffodils: Finding Beauty, Grace and Meaning When Things Fall Apart (Grand Central Publishing: $27) — always forthright, sometimes raw — tells how she relies on the stalwart companionship and constancy of nature to weather life’s cycles of heartache and hope.
“Every time somebody has a baby,” she said, “everyone is reminded of how miraculous life is. But we don’t need to give birth to a human child to notice how miraculous life is.”
Winn continued: “It is absolutely around us everywhere. I think that everything around us is a miracle and is worth being reminded of. We can be reminded of it every time we notice a tree start to bloom, or buds bursting to open.”
Even plants many consider as weeds are miraculous, she said, citing a particular ground cover growing in her own yard.
“It has tiny star-shaped blue flowers,” Winn said. “Every year, I tell my crew, ‘Don’t pull that out! I love it!’ I also have, I forget how many — Eight? Nine? 10? 11? — volunteer trees in my garden. I just think, ‘Well, if you want to live there, we’ll find you a spot.’”
Winn owns the Whimsical Gardens landscape design company and has long been seeped in the solace of the garden. Her beloved maternal grandmother “was rabid about gardening,” Winn said.
Add to that a childhood spent in Italy, Scotland, and England, where beautiful gardens are ubiquitous; a little girl, yenning to be a forest-dwelling princess surrounded by talking animal friends; a mother who was a master at floral design; an eye for color and a degree in fine arts — all that, and you have Rebecca Winn. Her passion for plants is palpable; her desire to get people out in the fresh air is determined and delicious.
Winn started Whimsical Gardens when her son Alex, now in his early 30s, was in fourth grade.
“Horticulturally, I was completely self-taught,” she said. “This was an artistic outlet. I wasn’t trying to build a business. From a creative standpoint, I only had one garden of my own. But I got to do all these other gardens with different styles, different colors.”
It also gave her an outlet to promote nature to a society that tends, she says, “to be de-natured.”
Now, oddly and encouragingly, the pandemic that has locked us behind closed doors has opened windows for us to climb through to the welcoming outdoors.
“During this global catastrophe,” Winn said, “it’s fascinating to me how people have turned to nature. People I’d never suspect — like a friend of mine, a good ol’ boy businessman, who is now posting pictures of his magnolias.”
Her hope, she said, “is that this will be something people keep. I think it’s in our construction that nature is grounding and soothing. Being in nature, there’s going to be a lowering of anxiety simply because there’s not all this stuff going on out there.”
“I don’t bring my phone outside because it’s a very seductive little brick,” she said. “I’d much rather have the experience of being in the garden. I’d also like to let people know that mindfulness is part of my personal practice. I think it’s so easy for some people to look outside and say, ‘OK, that’s green.’”
Winn continued: “But it’s not just that. If you could go out there with something that measured color variation, you’d find 100,000 shades of green and textures. How many ways can you make a leaf?”
That noticing, she said, that being present and really connecting with what’s around us, is what she would like readers to take from her book, and all of us to take from life. She comes by this connection naturally: Her mother was, first and foremost, a listener.
“One of the things so wonderful about my mother is if you were into something, there was no endpoint to her interest,” Winn said. “She would talk about whatever you were excited about or worried about or who you had a crush on. She’d be with you as long as you wanted to have that conversation.”
To that end, Winn added: “I would like for people to feel seen, to feel connected, to feel validated, to feel authenticated.”
And what better place for that, even if you’re the only human being around, than in the garden?
“Get out into nature,” Winn said. “Feel the rhythm and the sound of the breeze. Watch the movement of the trees as we watch the storms coming.”
She’s talking about meteorological occurrences, of course. But she could just as easily be talking about all the torrents of 2020. And while nature can’t take them away, it can surely offer us a little repose, a little calm, a little hope.
“We naturally dial down in nature,” Winn said. “It’s very, very healing.”