"For too long we have split personal ecology from care of the green world around us. Growing Myself is a beautifully written, honest story that demonstrates how we can be educated by nature and eventually discover ourselves in the growing and dying nature around us. We may find that at root we are a plant."
"I loved it! In all my years of doing The Big Picture, I've interviewed many people, but I have never talked with anyone who walks the path so sure-footed as does Judith Handelsman. Growing Myself is unique. It stands alone. "
-- Morgan Williams, host of "The Big Picture", KBIG-FM Radio Los Angeles
"The time is ripe for us to tell our stories and learn from each other through them. Growing Myself inspires us to have faith in our own stories. A candid and touching memoir of self-discovery and healing through gardening, Growing Myself is much more than a gardening book. It is the funny and poignant story of how Judith Handelsman grew up and took repsonsibility for her life by discovering how to cultivate richness and happiness in daily living. Growing Myself brought so many gifts into my life. I love this book."
-- Diana von Welanetz Wentworth co-author of The Chicken Soup for the Soul Cookbook, Founder of "The Inside Edge"
"Judith Handelsman is articulate, wise, entertaining, but most of all, real and believeable. Growing Myself is a 'must read.' Buy this book! "
"Explores the redemptive, restorative powers of working with soil, plants, and flowers . . . Her 'inner gardening' of the soul . . . a process that both feeds and is fed by her work . . . is lyrically and gracefully detailed here."
"How gardening can clean the layers of soot and grime off your intuition, can help you listen better to that intuition and act on it. Consider Handelsman the facilitator of a seminar that will force you to slow down, grow up, fine-tune and take responsibility."
"True perception . . . and unusual insights are mixed in . . . this collection of linked essays about coming of age as a gardener and as a woman."
"The deep levels of love and connection with plants-the healing power of 'inner gardening' . . . assure gardeners that the dividends are ample for both them and their flowers."
"I was embraced by it. It was a delight to read."
"Inspired by Growing Myself, I conducted a small experiment. One of the chores I've always hated most is repotting. Handelsman's advice: Give a day's notice. So I had a talk with my peace lily. The next day my peace lily slid right out of the old pot and didn't wilt. Coincidence? I don't think so."
"Full of amazing tales about what is possible if we give plants the respect they deserve. Hot tips for becoming an 'inner gardener' yourself."
New Age Journal May/June 1996 says: "After looking through scores of publishers' spring/summer catalogues, we've chosen more than fifty titles for your reading pleasure [including] Growing Myself. . . The former gardening columnist for New Age Journal learns to "listen" to the plant kingdom."
Los Angeles Times Sunday Book Review, June 23, 1996 "IN BRIEF"
-- Susan Salter Reynolds
New Woman September 1996
Are you on the best of terms with your houseplants? I mean, are you sufficiently attentive to their inner lives? Doubt it all you want (I've long been a skeptic), but the better you treat your plants, the better they'll treat you. They like Mozart, they flinch when approached unexpectedly with pruning shears, they perk up when stroked with a dampened cloth.
Inspired by Judith Handelsman's Growing Myself: A Spiritual Journey Through Gardening (Dutton, $21.95), I conducted a small experiment. One of the chores I've always hated most is repotting, yanking a recalcitrant, root-bound plant out of its too-small pot. Handelsman's advice: Give the plant a day's notice. Tell it what you're planning to do, and why. Earn its trust, and it will cooperate.
So I had a talk with my peace lily, even showing it the new pot and the bag of soil I would be using. I didn't just go through the motions; I really felt sincere (not to mention relieved that no one was around). The next day, my peace lily slid right out of the old pot and didn't wilt the way my plants always have when they're settling into the new ones. Coincidence ? I don't think so.
-- Cheryl Merser
Body Mind Spirit June-July 1996
Judith Handelsman, former gardening columnist for Vogue and New Age Journal, explores the redemptive, restorative powers of working with soil, plants, and flowers as she journeys, physically and spiritually, through marriage and divorce, city and countryside, home and abroad. Her "inner gardening" of the soul, the human work of personal change and growth through time and crises, a process that both feeds and is fed by her work in nature, is lyrically and gracefully detailed here.
NEWSDAY July 25, 1996
Growing a Guru Garden
A writer's potted friends inspire her personal growth
by Suzanne Curley
"The precess of my growing up, even into my late forties," says Judith Handelsman, former gardening columnist for Vogue, "has been inseparable from my love of plants."
In this appealing book about green things and personal growth, the author of "Growing Myself" takes readers along on a thought provoking tour of the backyards, flowerbeds and potted plants she has tended enthusiastically over the years. They all are, she tells us, her gurus.
Among them we meet mentors as humble as the pot-bound spider plant in Manhattan that gave the author a lesson in patience and in trusting intuition, and the giant cottonwood that taught her, years later, out in rural California, how to open her stingy heart. Raised in a New York apartment whose windows looked out on a vista of bare brick walls, Handelsman wasn't exactly born with a green thumb in her mouth. She nearly failed her college course in botany at the University of Wisconsin but in the process fell in love with plants. Her book, really a quite candid and touching memoir, tells of an urban person's deepening relationship with nature. For Handelsman, her houseplants and garden flowers grew her, instead of the other way around.
In this feeling, she claims, she's not alone. "Many people have moving experiences with trees or while they work in their gardens, but they don't discuss them for fear of sounding silly to relatives and friends. Rarely do people remark on the spiritual aspects of gardening," Handelsman writes. "It is only when someone else broaches the subject of how gardening 'feels' that others have the impetus to share their secrets . . . It is a gift that marks the beginning of a spiritual perspective, one that incorporates cooperation and communication between plants and humans."
The idea of talking to the plants is not a new one by any means. Devotees of the animistic religions like the Papago of South America believe that many different kinds of spirits inhabit trees and other flora. Other Native American people, the author points out, followed practices such as making love in the cornfields to enhance the future crop's fertility. In modern Western culture, stories and representations of fairies, elves and leprechauns are merely physical representations of beings that other people hold to be as real as the noses on their faces.
But the idea of "gardening in cooperation with nature"--that is, growing things hand-in-hand with the plants' "spiritual intelligence"--did not gain popular currency in this country until the German philosopher Rudolf Steiner brought his "biodynamic" farming principles to the States. Then in 1973, Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird's best-selling book, "The Secret Life of Plants," described scientific experiments in which seedlings grew at a much quicker pace when exposed to the strains of Mozart or Ravi Shankar, and that plants hooked up to electrodes showed clear evidence of alarm when faced, for example, with verbal threats against them. This gave the whole idea of plant intelligence a new credibility.
Subsequently there was publicity about the growth "miracles" at Findhorn--a barren, wind-whipped patch of coastal land in Scotland that was made to bloom mightily by a handfill of people who said they were communicating with the "devas," or plant spirits its of the garden. Using no fertilizers or other chemical aids, the Findhorn group raised fantastically lush flowers and veggies.
In "Growing Myself" there are no big, independenty veriviable miracles such as these--but the author does make a compelling argument that there more to that morning glory placidly climbing your fence, or to that fern adorning your desk, than meets the eye. Handelsman is the author of two previous books, "Greenworks" and, for children, "Gardens From Garbage." In "Growing Myself," she doesn't limit herself to the extrasensory realm, but intersperses her essays with practical advice on how to open up lines of communication with green things. At the end of the book, she invites fellow plant lovers to submit their own experiences of talking and listening to the plant kingdom. Perhaps these reports will provide fertile ground for a sequel to this fascinating tale of conversations possible between us and them--be they cosmos or cottonwoods.
Pasadena Star News July 12, 1996
GARDENING AS A SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE
There's a scene in the new John Travolta film "Phenomenon" that made Judith Handelsman nod knowingly.
Travolta, who portrays mechanic-turned genius George O'Malley, is sitting in his garden, looking forlorn and lonely and wondering why his neighbors have turned against him.
He looks up as the wind whistles through the tall trees that border his house. He watches for a while. And then a strange thing happens.
A look of peace crosses his face. It's almost as if the leaves have come down, brushed him across the shoulder like a concerned parent, and told him that everything would be all right.
"That's the interconnectedness of life," said Handelman who has written the book "Growing Myself' (Dutton, $21.95) to share her philosophy about gardening as spiritual experience and pathway to self-discovery.
"Plants are the lowest on the food chain, they really are," said Handelsman, 48, who lives in Laguna Beach. She now is doing a five-city book tour.
"But there's an energetic exchange between humans and plants," she said. "Besides cleaning the air there is an energy exchanged, a healing vibration. The more you tune into it, the more it works."
There's the rub. You must tune in.
In "Growing Myself," Handelsman writes about how she learned to tune in. She describes how her plants have become more than just a relaxing hobby for her, and how her close relationships with assorted greenery have helped her get through some trying times in her life.
She calls it "inner gardening."
It's a topic she loves. She lectures on gardening and spirituality and has written gardening columns for Vogue and the New Age Journal. She's also the author of two gardening books: "Tender Loving Care of Plants" and "Gardening From Garbage," an awardwinning children's book.
One of Handelsman's primary lessons in "Growing Myself" is that plants can respond to human sensitivity and kindness. In fact, she recommends that a gardener give a plant 24-hour notice before he or she does any transplanting or repotting work.
Handelsman says the notice gives the plants the chance to anesthetize themselves so they won't go into shock after the procedure.
For those who scoff at such a New Agey notion, Handelsman shares a personal experience. In the "Patience and the Spider Plant" chapter she describes her first such effort--warning a spider plant that wouldn't budge out of the pot that she wanted to divide it and put it in two pots.
Twenty-four hours later the now-cooperative root ball slid right out, she writes.
"I realized something was going on that I couldn't explain," she said. "From then on I decided to treat all my plants that way."
What separates "Growing Myself' from the run-of-the-mill "love your plant" tome is Handelsman's frankness about her troubled relationships with people.
Among the glowing and emotional tributes to her plants, she weaves in stories about her contentious relationship with her mother and how her marriage ended when she decided to have an abortion.
Handelsman said she has learned by lecturing to garden clubs and other organizations that she isn't the only one who strives for relationships with plants.
"People always have their own magical stories about their experiences with plants," she said. "I know there are a lot of people out there who garden, indoors too, who actually communicate with their plants but don't talk about it because they are too afraid they'll be made fun of."
Handelsman doesn't actually talk to her plants.
"I usually do it with my thoughts," she said. "I feel more authentic when I do it that way. Plants are like dogs and cats, sentient beings. You can can communicate with them with your thoughts, your attitude and your intent."