Vivian Swift, author of “Gardens of Awe and Folly,” is a world traveler, a cultural historian, a garden connoisseur and an accomplished artist.
So accomplished, in fact, that she not only illustrated her most recent book — subtitled “A Traveler’s Journal on the Meaning of Life and Gardening” — but typeset the entire book by hand.
Meet Swift at 6 p.m. Wednesday, when she appears at Octavia Books, 513 Octavia St., to offer insights into her writings and sign copies of her book. “Awe and Folly” is her third book, preceded by “When Wanderers Cease to Roam” and “Le Road Trip.”
The concept of Swift’s book is simple, though its execution is complex. She takes readers with her as she visits nine gardens in far-flung parts of the globe: Rio de Janeiro; Key West, Florida; London; Paris; Scotland; Long Island, New York; Marrakech, Morocco; and even New Orleans.
Swift has selected each garden for the stories they tell and lessons they offer.
In Paris, for example, she bypasses the exceedingly grand Jardin des Plantes or well-known Place des Vosges for the Square du Vert-Galant, a 2/3-acre green oasis on the Île de la Cité that she declares a “micro-nation.”
Enchanted by its romantic appeal, views and design perfection, Swift uses the garden to muse over everything from Baron Haussmann and his reinvention of Paris in the mid-nineteenth century to the life span of a weeping willow tree.
The lesson that the square offers — and Swift derives one from each of the gardens she visits — is “Think like a micro-nation … And the nothing about you, your ideas, or your garden will ever feel small again.”
The garden that Swift chooses to write about and illustrate in London isn’t Kew but the Chelsea Physic Garden, which she first visited in 1999.
Unlike other gardens in the book, this one had been neglected: Vines covered trees and walking paths were impeded by overgrown beds. But it was the garden’s decrepitude, Swift says, that appealed to her most.
It “looked to be exactly what an English literature loving gal … would expect to find….hiding in the heart of London.” On a more recent visit, however, Swift discovered that “A new team of brilliant curators and head gardeners had redesigned the old place to make it dazzlingly relevant for the 21st century.”
The lesson that the Chelsea Physic Garden provides? “Accept change.”
Swift narrates her discoveries with wit; some passages are laugh-out-loud funny. The humor helps prevent the lessons the author proffers from seeming too obvious.
It takes someone with Swift’s wry sense of humor to describe themselves as she has on her website, vivianswiftblog.com, as living on Long Island Sound with a husband and four cats.
“And when I say ‘four cats’, I mean ‘eight cats.’ But you can’t just blurt out that you have EIGHT cats or else people will think you’re a Crazy Cat Lady … And when I say ‘eight cats’, I mean 12. Plus 2.”
Stephanie Bruno writes about homes and gardens. Contact her at email@example.com.