Catie Marron’s career has encompassed investment banking at Morgan Stanley, magazine journalism as Senior Features Editor for Vogue, and serving as Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the New York Public Library. She’s the creator and editor of two anthologies which explore the value and significance of urban public spaces: City Squares: Eighteen Writers on the Spirit and Significance of Squares Around the World (Amazon, Bookshop), and City Parks: Public Places, Private Thoughts (Amazon).
Catie has been a friend of mine for years, and I’m a big fan of her other work, so I couldn’t wait to get my copy of her latest book. Becoming a Gardener: What Reading and Digging Taught Me About Living (Amazon, Bookshop) chronicles her experiences creating her first garden, and how gardening can enrich our lives.
Oddly, though I don’t have any urge to garden myself, I love reading books about it. Plus, this book is gorgeous, with beautiful photos of her garden and art related to gardens.
I couldn’t wait to talk to Catie about happiness, habits, and the joys of gardening.
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?
Catie: Gardening! It certainly makes me happier, and it’s not just me. It’s stunning to think of the volumes of books and articles over the last couple of years, and for centuries before, stating the value of gardening to our well-being, our health (both physical and mental) and our pleasure. An ancient Chinese proverb says: “If you want to be happy for a lifetime, be a gardener!”
What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
At 18, I didn’t realize that the state of happiness comes and goes, and is certainly something to savor when you have it. Yet, while it isn’t a constant in life, and some people have so much hardship that it’s hard to imagine how they have any sense of happiness, many still do. I think this is due to appreciation of the simple ways you can find happiness, and that in fact, you do have some control over this.
You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you – or your readers – most?
What surprised me most is how deeply gardens have been valued for thousands of years. For instance, I was surprised to learn that in 2,000 BC Cicero said that “If you have a garden and a library, you have all you need.” The word “paradise” derives from an ancient Persian word meaning an enclosed garden. Much more recently, E. O. Wilson created the term biophilia, which identifies humans’ innate desire and affection for nature. We have an essential need to be in contact with the natural world. In gardens, we can be in direct, deep contact with nature.
Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit – or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?
A challenging, healthy habit that I’ve developed and adhere to most of the time is a Scottish shower, which is defined as finishing a warm shower with a brisk cold water rinse. Summer or winter, I always love a hot shower, but the cold ending, which sometimes lasts seconds, sometimes minutes, is definitely easier in the summer and always wakes my whole body up.
Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?
Hands down, an obliger. When I started the questionnaire, I hoped I might be a mix, but it quickly became clear that I am an obliger through and through.
Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness?
Daily day-to-day stuff — all those odds and ends that go into running my family’s and my life — take over too often. I haven’t yet figured out how to pare them down. When writing my book, I would get to my desk early, say to myself, I’ll just get this, this, and that done and then start on my book, but so often those odds and ends would last the day.
Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? Or a quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful?
A quote I read a few years ago, by Iris Murdoch, has stuck with me: “One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats.”
In your field, is there a common misconception that you’d like to correct?
For decades I’ve had the misconception that I needed a green thumb to successfully garden. I’ve learned that many people feel this so it’s a misconception I’d really like to dispel. It stopped me from enjoying this wonderful pursuit for years, and I hope it won’t slow down others. Many writers address this green thumb debate head-on and have convinced me that it doesn’t matter.