Marchelle Farrell, the Trinidad and Tobago-born winner of the 2021 Nan Shepherd Prize for underrepresented voices in nature writing, asks us just one page into her debut: “What is home?” This glistening book maps Farrell’s move to the English countryside, recording lockdowns, racist violence globally, and the growing of the garden that changed her life: “Racism has imbued every aspect of the human landscape ... In this garden a different narrative ... grows.”
Not since Braiding Sweetgrass have I folded over so many pages; this book will change how we speak of gardens, land and identity in myriad ways. A story of becoming and belonging; of building a safe, beautiful life as a means of digging up the chains that colonialism has tried to keep our world bound by. A telling of a woman, a mother, a gardener, a writer, an activist: “Displaced only daughter of generations of dispersed people, I am the last seed adrift on a centuries-old breath ... I listen to the chorus of ... water and ... wind and ... birds and they sing to me of the possibility of belonging.”
Never shying away from subject matter both raw and unsettling, Farrell speaks of bodies and motherhood; race and grief; privilege and the past – in ways I have not encountered before.
“Motherhood savaged me” and “returned me to the garden”. Of this garden – the one the book leads us through, each chapter a plant – she writes: “My tears have soaked into this earth ... The garden has composted my grief into bounty.”
This is an exquisite love letter to kith, and to kin and to ki (the pronoun suggested by Robin Wall Kimmerer instead of it, to signify a being of the living earth respectfully), showing us how finely interwoven we are: “I am the land. How can I not listen when her voice is my own?”
Uprooting is a rallying call; imploring us to reshape what it means to inhabit a place; showing so many ways we might make home, side by side: “All I can do is start with the earth beneath my hands, fumble my way through the soil towards loving reparation.”
On growing a kitchen garden – something she has found difficult because of the violence her ancestors were put through – she muses: “Let us build something different and new. Together let’s grow something beautiful.”
It hasn’t stopped in that garden: this book is as equally different, new and beautiful.