Garden Inventories: Reflections on Land, Place and Belonging

Garden Inventories: Reflections on Land, Place and Belonging

Mariam Pirbhai
  • $20.00

NOVEMBER 14, 2023
172 pages | ISBN 978-1-989496-77-0

**Finalist for the 2023 Foreword INDIES Award for Nature (Adult Nonfiction)**

After a lifetime of traversing continents and cities, Mariam Pirbhai found herself in Waterloo, Ontario, and there she began to garden. As she looks to local nurseries, neighbourhood gardens and nature trails for inspiration, she discovers that plants are not so very different from people. They, too, can be uprooted, transplanted – even naturalized. They, too, can behave as a colonizing or invasive species. And they, too, must learn to adapt to a new land before calling it home. In Garden Inventories, Pirbhai brings her scholar’s eye, her love of story and an irrepressible sense of humour to bear on the questions of how we interact with the land around us, from what it means to create a garden through the haze of nostalgia, to the way tradition and nature are bound up in cultural ideals such as “cottage country,” or even the great Canadian wilderness. Roses, mulberries, tamarinds and Jack pines wend their way through these essays as Pirbhai pays close attention to the stories of the plants, as well as the people, that have accompanied her journey to find home. Throughout, she shows us the layers of history and culture that infuse our understandings of land, place and belonging, revealing how a garden carries within it the story of a life ­­– of family, home, culture and heritage – if not also the history of a world.

Advance Praise

“What a veritable garden of delights this collection of essays is! Organic, knowledgeable and insightful. Pirbhai recounts her journey as an ‘émigré-settler’ in a fine poetic style, tripping down memory lane with ease, building a rich tapestry of deliciously vivid memories stretching across continents. Her political awareness and cultural depth are layered with humour and self-irony. I was genuinely sorry when I got to the end.” – Rukhsana Ahmad, author of Song for a Sanctuary and River on Fire

“A novice tree planter and gardener and self-described émigré-settler on Indigenous lands in Canada, Mariam Pirbhai’s cascading essays in Garden Inventories: Reflections on Land, Place and Belonging are an enticing metaphoray, as Robin Wall Kimmerer states it, a walk through one’s world with all of the senses – mind, body, emotion, spirit and imagination – in search of home. Pirbhai’s keen observations of North American obsessions in gardening, her musings aloud on land and ownership, and the often unspoken relationship with Indigenous peoples, are informative and revealing. She invites readers to take a meditative walk through time with her as she names, compares, evaluates and reconciles the life of plants and trees native and non-native to North America, to the Grand River region and to the small garden that she and her husband tend to in southern Ontario.” – Rita Bouvier, author of A Beautiful Rebellion

“At a time of increasing dislocation around the globe and a massive re-evaluation of what it means to have the pleasure and privilege of roots in a place, Mariam Pirbhai’s Garden Inventories: Reflections on Land, Place and Belonging asks us whether there are other ways to create and sustain relationships with the land besides birthright. Moving from the many locations she has called home over the years to the small piece of land on which she currently lives and gardens with her husband, Pirbhai notes, ‘We have brought our own stories of land and homeland to this garden, as we listen carefully to the stories that it has, in turn, shared with us.’ Whether exploring on the keen focus on gardening in North America or the fraught concept of land ‘ownership,’ she is, above all things, attending closely to place and holding her many landscapes in intimate, revealing conversation.” – Jenna Butler, author of Revery: A Year of Bees and A Profession of Hope: Farming on the Edge of the Grizzly Trail

Garden Inventories explores ways to decolonize our desire to create home on native land. Mariam Pirbhai and her husband are descendants of immigrants from Pakistan and Guatemala. For the last seventeen years, they’ve been making home in Waterloo, Ontario. Their migrant histories have given them contrapuntal vision that sees between what they learned in other places and the place where they now live. It’s not lost on them that their new neighbourhood is called Colonial Acres. In essays that defamiliarize the global migration of roses, the cultural hegemony of lawns, the multigenerational rite of ‘going to the cottage’ and their effects on Indigenous lives and biomes, Pirbhai tracks between what she learned from the lands that were and what she’s now learning from the land that is about how to participate in a new balance that can foster a healthy land that will be for the future.” – Daniel Coleman, author of Yardwork: A Biography of an Urban Place

“In Garden Inventories, award-winning fiction writer, émigré and nature-watcher extraordinaire Mariam Pirbhai compels us to look twice at everything – from lawns to the Precambrian Shield to mulberries in her garden – for what they are, here and now, and what they represent elsewhere and in another time. With delightful and intelligent prose, Pirbhai crosses nature-nurture, east-west and observer-tinkerer divides in the world of plants. Each chapter is an exuberant local journey of curiosities and sensibilities, eschewing nostalgia. This makes for a refreshing, essential addition to Canadian nature-writing literature.” – Madhur Anand, Governor General’s Literary Award winner for Nonfiction and Professor of Ecology


Digging Up/Rootedness (Michelle Hardy, Atticus Review, 26/02/2024)
"At its end, Garden Inventories is land acknowledgement in broad terms. By subverting appellations and narratives of conservation, Pirbhai demonstrates how research and knowledge place people on the inside. She applies the universal notion of rootedness, in plants and in people, to her garden and herself. When her prose poem concludes, Pirbhai sounds different. Softer, gentler. Settled. Home."

519 Magazine #66 – February 2024 with Mick Mars (Dan Savoie, 519 Magazine, 01/02/2024)
Mariam explains how gardening offers insight into our relationship with the land.


Featured Writer: Mariam Pirbhai (Liisa Kovala, Women Writing, 06/02/2024)
“Publishing is also about trends, about doors that open and close at unspecified intervals, and also about intuiting your own way through the process—if you feel ready, go for it! Long literary resumes be damned!”

Garden Inventories: Reflections on Land, Place and Belonging with Mariam Pirbhai (Joanne Shaw, Down the Garden Path, 08/05/2024)
Joanne Shaw welcomes author Mariam Pirbhai to the podcast to discuss her creative nonfiction book. 

Watershed Writers featuring Mariam Pirbhai (Tanis MacDonald, Watershed Writers, 24/03/2024)
Tanis MacDonald talks to author Mariam Pirbhai about her new book, Garden Inventories: Reflections on Land, Place and Belonging about how we interact with "The Land," be it a garden in the suburbs, a cottage in the woods, or the place our ancestors call home.

Mariam Pirbhai Digs Deep to Find Profound Truths in Gardens, and Ourselves (Open Book, 18/01/2024)
"I have always been passionate about the subject of migration, belonging, and identity, as an academic and as a creative writer. This book harnesses that same passion, but in a much more personal way."

The Morning Edition - K-W with Craig Norris (CBC Listen, 12/01/2024)
Craig Norris talks to Mariam Pirbhai about Garden Inventories and the plot of land as a metaphor.


Top 10: Books in Bloom (All Lit Up, 19/03/2024)
Mariam's book makes this fun roundup of books about gardening and growing things.

Hamilton Reads for the Holidays (Jessica Rose, Hamilton City Magazine, 7/12/2023)
Mariam's book is included in this great roundup!

Power Q & A with Mariam Pirbhai (River Street Writing, 20/11/2023)
"This book is for anyone who lives and walks through the natural world that is their proverbial backyard and takes their sense of place in it for granted; and this book is for anyone who lives and walks through the natural world that is their proverbial backyard and takes their sense of outsidership in it for granted. That is to say, this book is intended for everyone."

Most Anticipated: Our 2023 Fall Nonfiction Preview (49th Shelf, 28/07/2023)
Mariam's book makes this great list.

2023 Fall Preview: Nonfiction (Attila Berki, Cassandra Drudi and Andrew Woodrow-Butcher; Quill & Quire; 02/08/2023)
Garden Inventories is on the Nonfiction preview this year.


Click here to read an excerpt of Garden Inventories.

About the Author

Mariam Pirbhai is the author of a debut novel titled Isolated Incident (Mawenzi 2022) featured among CBC’s “65 Works of Fiction to Watch For in Fall 2022); and a short story collection titled Outside People and Other Stories (Inanna 2017), winner of the IPPY and American BookFest Awards. Pirbhai is Professor of English at Wilfrid Laurier University, where she teaches and specializes in postcolonial studies and creative writing. She is also the author or editor of several academic books on the global South Asian diaspora, including Mythologies of Migration, Vocabularies of Indenture: Novels of the South Asian Diaspora in Africa, the Caribbean, and Asia-Pacific (University of Toronto Press 2009), and Critical Perspectives on Indo-Caribbean Women’s Literature (Routledge 2013). Pirbhai has served as President of CAPS (Canadian Association of Postcolonial Studies, formerly CACLALS), Canada’s longest-running scholarly association devoted to postcolonial and global anglophone literatures. Pirbhai is the daughter of Pakistani immigrants whose arrival in Canada followed a circuitous route from England, the United Arab Emirates and the Philippines. She and her husband live in Waterloo, Ontario.

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