My latest paper is a garden

Image: Addressing visitors at the official opening of the New Brunswick Literature Garden; photo courtesy of Holly Abbandonato.

As a scientist, I’m really a writer, in the important sense that my research doesn’t matter until it’s published.  As a result, I’ve come to celebrate completion of a project not when I collect the last sample, enter the last bit of data, or conduct the last analysis.  Instead, I celebrate completion when the paper is published and available for the world to see*.

But my most recent paper isn’t a paper; it’s a garden.  And just a couple of weeks ago we had its official opening, and I’m counting that as “my” garden’s publication date.  I’ve just published my garden!

About that garden: one of the ways I’m involved in my local community is that I sit on the Board of the Fredericton Botanic Garden.  I do a variety of things for that organization, but I’m most proud of our latest garden bed: the New Brunswick Literature Garden.  I’ve had help (so my garden is coauthored), but over the two years I’ve led the grantwriting and design, chosen the plantings, written the signage, procured and installed the signs… pretty much everything except planting the plants. (I have a severe deficiency of greenness in my thumb.)  The garden’s done now, and I think it’s pretty cool.

What’s a Literature Garden?  Well, ours is a collection of plantings, in which each plant is mentioned in a work of poetry or prose by a New Brunswick author.  As an example, the bed includes blueberries, from this poem by Elizabeth Brewster:

Where I come from, people
carry woods in their minds, acres of pine woods;
blueberry patches in the burned-out bush;
wooden farmhouses, old, in need of paint,
with yards where hens and chickens circle about,
clucking aimlessly; battered schoolhouses
behind which violets grow…

-Elizabeth Brewster
      Where I Come From
      (from Selected Poems of Elizabeth Brewster: 1944-77 )


Where the blueberries are planted there’s a sign (above) with the quotation from the poem, a biographical snippet about Brewster, and some information about the biology of blueberries.  If the photo’s a bit unclear (even after clicking on it to expand) you can see it right here – perhaps you aren’t familiar with Elizabeth Brewster.  I wasn’t, and that’s sort of the whole point of the Literature Garden: to introduce people who love plants to new literature, and people who love literature to new plants.

We’ve managed to represent a broad range of literature in the garden: it includes works of poetry and of prose, of adult literature and children’s literature, new works and older ones, works in English and works in French.  The set of plants is, I’ll admit, unusual for a botanic garden: goldenrods and larkspur share a bed with potatoes and rhubarb (among other things).  We hope visitors will make lots of unexpected discoveries.  You can, too, even if you can’t visit in person, because you can explore the Literature Garden online here – please check it out!  But I’m sorry you couldn’t all come to the Opening, because it was great fun – we had several authors read from their works, remarks from New Brunswick’s Lieutenant-Governor, and refreshments made with a number of our featured plants.

Lavender, and Emerise LeBlanc-Nowlan, who read from her children’s book “Tara, Timi, et la nuit”. Photos courtesy Holly Abbandonato (Lavender) and Diane Reid (Emerise).

OK, so you can tell I think “my” new garden is pretty neat.  But why am I calling it “my latest paper”?  It’s not a paper; not really.  But it took about as much effort as some papers (from securing funding to learning new techniques to writing up the “results”).  It involved research.  It’s a published piece of writing, in two media: physical signs in the garden itself, and the garden’s web site.  More people will probably read it than read most of my papers**. And the goal is to increase readers’ understanding of the natural world (and its intersection with the creative one).  So: the Literature Garden may be outside the envelope of the papers I’ve written so far; but you can see the envelope from here.

By the way: I’ve become interested in that connection between natural and creative worlds, in various ways.  I’ve written about sitting on a poetry MA examination committee.  I’ve reviewed the resulting book of poetry and then reviewed another one (both have strong links to the natural sciences, and I recommend both very highly).  I’ve speculated about the representation of scientists in novels.  High-school me, who ran screaming from anything that wasn’t quantitative, is flabbergasted by all this.

My latest paper is a garden. Perhaps one day, one of yours will be too.

© Stephen Heard  September 4 2018

 Our next project in the Botanic Garden is a pollinator bed, intended both to support native pollinator populations and to educate visitors about plants and pollinators.  If you’re able, would you consider making a small donation in support of that project?

“My” new garden is coauthored.  Among those who helped put it together: Holly Abbandonato, Sarah Boardman, Emily Boudreau, Chloe Cull, Lucy Dyer, Dal DeLucry, Mischa Giasson, Jim Goltz, Mike Lacroix, Bailey Saunders, Steve Stehouwer, Angela Watson, the City of Fredericton, two francophone translators who wish to remain anonymous, and a bevy of people from the New Brunswick arts community who suggesting plantings and authors.  However, if there are errors or peculiarities of critical commentary, those are almost certainly mine.

*^OK, also when I submit the paper (sometimes repeatedly).  And also when I submit the revisions.  There’s nothing wrong with celebrating a few times!

**^While I was sweatily pounding the signposts into the ground, a family of four came through and read all the signs – even the ones lying on the ground awaiting their turn at installation.  I will resent it only mildly if you point out that the garden has, as a result, already been read more than some of my papers.


10 thoughts on “My latest paper is a garden

  1. John Pastor

    Fascinating blog. It must be fun to see your scientific writing amongst the blueberries. I’m glad you also introduced us to the poems in Caribou Run and the relation between poetry and science. Anne Michaels, another Canadian, also has some interesting poems along these lines. Here’s a taxonomic description I once set to verse of a tree that you know well in New Brunswick:


  2. Kaitlin SW

    I love this! To cross-comment from twitter, my only concern is norming all units of academic output to papers. There’s a lot of value from things that aren’t peer reviewed papers specifically because of the different experiences and insights that they can give readers/participants. A garden is an immersive sensory experience! I’d like to see the academy welcome a wider range of output than for us to have to justify how all of our output maps onto the paper format (or not).


    1. ScientistSeesSquirrel Post author

      Thanks! I completely agree with this, actually. In drawing the comparison, my hope was not to norm the paper as the only unit of academic output, but instead to use comparisons to a paper to think about the value of other units – gardens, outreach talks, museum exhibits, whatever they might be. But I didn’t think about it as clearly as you have, and so didn’t make that explicit. Thanks for the opportunity to agree with you here in the Replies.


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  5. Elizabeth Moon

    Both the garden and this post are delightful, and help make it clear that roaming across the borders (of sciences, of literature, of gardens) is well worth doing. I’m suddenly wondering if I can get an interest going in a native plants garden here in this small town…or even a “tour” with each home cultivating one or two species they really like. Hmmmm. Thank you for your ideas, and for stimulating ideas in others’ minds.



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