Patricia Klindienst: Gardeners Across the U.S.

For several years  I’ve assigned Klindienst’s book, The Earth Knows My Name (2006, Beacon Press) in my English classes at Santa Monica College.  I’ve recommended to book to many friends and faculty in English, ESL, and history.  At the recent American Horticulture Society Child and Youth Garden Symposium in Pasadena, I realized that I was at it again, recommending her book to almost everyone with whom I chatted.  Fortunately, I was able to meet with Patricia this summer.  After the FEEST at Holyoke, we drove south to see her in Guilford, Connecticut, a small community fronting on Long Island Sound.  It was a full and rich day.  We chatted a while in her kitchen and then walked to a local restaurant for a dinner.

Her current project is based on a Russian Jewish couple she researched  for The Earth Knows My Name, but had to cut from that book since they were no longer living.  I was surprised to hear that she interviewed 3 times as many gardeners as appeared in the book.  She took me into her work room, the wall  covered with photos, immigrant manifests from the couple’s trip to America at the turn of the century.   The family gave her access to the postcard collection of the family and she scanned the photos and made a beautiful book for them, showing both sides of each card, a beautiful and fitting tribute to the family for allowing her access to their correspondence.  Through her research, she feels she knows more about the couple and the family than the living relatives.  For some reason I had assumed that she was fictionalizing this content, but no, she is writing a biography of this couple, who seems to have risen to the top of the florist trade, supplying New York with flowers in the 20s and 30s.  It was worth the trip.  The next time my students read the introduction to her book, we will have much more to discuss.  My students see writing as work, so I often ask students what motivated Patricia to write this book, to do so much research, to travel, and interview these gardeners.  Why did she need to share their stories?  From meeting with her, I see that she savors everything about the research process; she may even see it as an art form.

What we discussed: Her book and current research, suggested writing projects for my students, and assignments I’ve used as I teach her book, The Earth Knows My Name.

The Writers Voice interview with Patricia:

Patricia’s suggestions for student writing projects:

  • Earliest memories of gardening
  • Oral history projects (interview a gardener/farmer)
  • Memory of celebration involving food
  • Class cookbook with essays about food and cultures

Recommended reading:

—Michael Ableman.  On Good Land, From the Good Earth, and other books. Interview with Michael Ableman published in The Sun. Through Ableman, Patricia was able to make a connection with Clayton Brascoupe in New Mexico.

–Stanley Crawford. A Garlic Testament: Seasons on a Small New Mexico Farm.

—John Jeavons.  How to Grow More Vegetables than you ever thought possible on less land than you imagined possible.

–Debra Marquart The Horizontal World: Growing Up Wild in the Middle of Nowhere (Counterpoint).  “Chores” was published in the July/August 2006 Orion, and reprinted in The Best Creative Nonfiction, Vol. 1.  Ed. Lee Gutkind  Norton, 2007.


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