Ep. 71: Margo Rabb and Chris Fehlhaber — Finding Healing and Magic in a Pleasure Garden

My guests (plural!) this week are author Margo Rabb and horticulturist Chris Fehlhaber. It’s the first time I’ve had two guests on the podcast, and my first face-to-face interview. I learned of Margo’s work through a beautifully moving piece she wrote for the New York Times called “Garden of Solace.” The garden she refers to is Chanticleer, which is about 15 minutes from where I live and one of our favorite destinations. It was great to have Chris join us at Margo’s suggestion, as he plays a key role at Chanticleer and has deep insights into the nature of gardens and our relationship with them. The three of us explored topics like the healing power of gardens, sadness and grief as experiences that don’t need to be “fixed,” links between my guests’ respective passions of writing and gardening, and the love we find in relationships in which we can be ourselves.

So there’s a lot to look forward to in this discussion. Other topics we touched included:

  • The beauty of Chanticleer Garden, in the suburbs of Philadelphia
  • The move that unearthed losses in Margo’s life
  • The love and passion that are felt through the time and toil invested in a garden
  • Finding magic in a garden
  • Gardens as a conduit between us and other people
  • The ubiquity of death in the garden
  • Finding rebirth in a garden’s death and decay
  • The complicated mix that is grief
  • Being cheered by spending time with a garden and simply being present
  • The sense of physical safety that’s possible in a public garden, perhaps especially for women
  • The parallels between growth in a garden and the natural human tendency toward growth
  • Discovering as a writer a story that wants to be told
  • The uncertainty that both writers and gardeners work with
  • The difference between a sterile “healing garden” and a great spirit-filled garden
  • Gardening for yourself first
  • The honesty we find in plants and gardens
  • Our instinctual movement toward gardens and nature when we’re in pain or overwhelmed
Margo Rabb at The Ruin at Chanticleer Garden. (Photo by Leo Reid)

Here are links to Margo’s two published books (affiliate links):

Chris mentioned a lovely book about Chanticleer called The Art of Gardening (affiliate link), which he was kind enough to gift to me after our interview. It’s filled with inspiration for garden design and rich descriptions of the gardening philosophy at Chanticleer.

Here is information about writer and artist Edward Gorey, whom Margo referenced a couple times in our discussion.

Margo Rabb is the author of the novels Kissing in America and Cures for Heartbreak. Kissing in America was named a best book of the year by the New York Public Library, the Chicago Public Library, and the American Library Association.

Look for her forthcoming book, Lucy Clark Will Not Apologize, which will be published in the spring of 2021 by HarperCollins.

Margo’s essays, journalism, book reviews, and short stories have been published in outlets like the New York Times, the New York Times Book Review, the Atlantic, Slate, Salon, Marie Claire, Seventeen, and elsewhere, and have been broadcast on NPR.

She received the grand prize in the Zoetrope short story contest, first prize in the Atlantic fiction and American Fiction contests, and a PEN Syndicated Fiction Project Award.

Margo grew up in Queens, NY, and lived in Texas, Arizona, and the Midwest before moving to the Philadelphia area with her husband and children. Find Margo online at her website and on Twitter.

Chris Fehlhaber is assistant horticulturist at Chanticleer Garden. He completed degrees in Landscape Architecture—Natural Resources and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin.

As you’ll hear in our discussion, Chris has a deep understanding of the power of gardens and all we can learn from them. He regularly gives talks about Chanticleer and gardening more broadly. His goal is to raise public consciousness of, and appreciation for, enriching, progressive horticulture.

Chris believes we can all lead better lives by making the world a more beautiful place. Learn more about Chris’s work at the Chanticleer website, or better yet, visit the garden in person. Chanticleer Garden will be open April 1 – November 1, 2020.

The banner photo for this post is of The Ruin at Chanticleer Garden. (Source: ajamils/Adobe Stock)

2 thoughts

  • Thank you for this fabulous conversation. It was just what I needed to listen to at this moment, on so many levels and for so many reasons. It has been both a comfort and an inspiration as I navigate my own feelings of loss and grief. Gardening is one of my ways of coping, it connects me to my dear departed dad who lived and breathed through his garden right up to his death aged 90 in 2017. Growing things from cuttings and seeds is a pastime that my 91 yr old mum and I share, as we create a new garden for her and she copes with being a widow. Gardening is one of the most magical things we can do, alone and together.

    • Thank you for your lovely comments, Tina. I’m so glad the conversation resonated with you. I’m sending you and your mum my best—-from my garden to yours. 🙂

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