In her charming gift book The Twelve Gifts from the Garden, Charlene Costanzo combines invaluable woman wisdom with sweetness while extending an invitation to the reader: explore surroundings in nature with an eye toward meanings other than “just” beauty.
“I’ve received a lot of guidance from plants,” Costanzo writes in her Introduction, “including lessons related to strength, beauty, courage, compassion, hope, joy, talent, imagination, reverence, wisdom, love, and faith. This is what I have to share, what I wish to share, in this book…” which we find are insights gained in a botanical garden on Sanibel Island- and from a few other, random (and gorgeous) locations, including the Red Rocks region of Sedona (AZ), the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale (AZ), and St. John in the US Virgin Islands.
Costanzo’s Note to the Reader further encourages us to “…(perceive) the flowers, roots, leaves, and trees as (she) did” while working on the book, “which was sometimes with whimsy, often with wonder, always with awe.” The genesis of this, Costanzo’s second book, also built on the “Twelve Gifts” idea, is a dream she once had in 1987.
“In the sleep state,” Costanzo shares with readers, “I had been in a place where I heard about twelve gifts. I remembered a few of them: Strength, Courage, Beauty, Compassion, Joy… and I recalled a repeated phrase: ‘May you… May you… May you…’ with what felt like a bestowing of blessings.” She says as she remembered this, she was prompted to write down her thoughts and feelings about how she would have liked to have encouraged her own teen girls- about to leave home for college- and this grew to a prompting that caused her to begin her first book, The Twelve Gifts of Birth. A year later, as she contemplated her mother’s imminent passing, she began to take seriously the need to, finally, birth that book.
The Twelve Gifts of Birth, Costanzo’s first book, was not published until almost ten years later, in September of 1998. However, once published- and quite a story, that process- she felt an incredible sense of joy for having completed the task due in no small part to the responses she began receiving from readers – with diverse backgrounds and ages- from all around the world. That last qualifier, “age,” was significant for Costanzo: Her original idea had begun with the contemplation of missed opportunities in sharing with her girls, before they were emancipated, how highly she held them in esteem, how important and special they were- so she believed her audience leaned more toward “Youth.” However, Costanzo began to get feedback indicating that readers of all ages were taking in and appreciating the book’s positive messaging. With this encouragement, she would go on to produce a full-color illustrated version on her own, a process she says truly surprised her.
“I experienced firsthand that miracles do happen,” Costanzo writes, “when we follow our bliss in the spirit of service. When a work is a labor of love, doors open…” She also shares that, through the process of writing and then publishing the first book, she realized she needed to hear its messages of affirmation and confirmation, herself. In The Twelve Gifts of the Garden, Costanzo both uses and accesses the strength she receives from appreciating her Twelve Gifts as she encounters nature.
Some of Costanzo’s chapters are identified by the item of her focus and musing, such as “The Pom Pom Palm,” “The Silk Floss Tree,” “A Bamboo Concert,” “Four-Leaf Clover,” “Turk’s Cap Mallow,” and “Angel’s Trumpet.” Yet some titles hint at a more than special inner wisdom (or, even, inner joke) such as “Namaste, Jai Bhagwan,” “Aging Like Brunfelsia,””A Tree Grows in Sedona,” and even “Gregg Buckthorn.” One chapter, titled “Dawn,” tells the story of “Cubby,” a family songbird who inspired a witness about death and life to Costanzo and her family that won’t ever be forgotten. (See excerpt below). Each chapter, however includes a special something that lifts, lightens, and inspires.
And that is Costanzo’s aim from the start: to inspire- to inspire readers to see things in nature in ways that they might not ordinarily see them, and to walk into a garden as though she were walking alongside them, coaxing them to pause and look- really look– to see what they might not otherwise see.
Excerpt from The Twelve Gifts from the Garden:
The author and a woman she has just met while strolling in the Sanibel Garden have a conversation once they both find themselves standing in front of a bare plumeria tree… devoid of blossoms, while all else in the garden is blooming.
“With a deep breath, I begin. ‘One day, many years ago, my husband and I noticed an unusual silence in the house upon returning home from a family party…Usually our zebra finch greeted us with song… His name was Cubby. He had black, white, and gray stripes and a spot of bright orange…He never failed to imitate the squeaks of the door’s hinges with squeaks of his own. That evening, however, we fond him lying on the bottom of his cage, completely still… With sorrow, we comforted our crying daughters… Because it was nighttime, we planned to bury him the next day. I went to his cage when I awoke at dawn… Although Cubby was still motionless on the bottomof the cage, he was upright, not lying on his side like the night before. With his head tucked down and his body pulled in toward its center, he took the form of a downy, feathered ball. Although he seemed barely alive clearly he was not dead! I was shocked… For days Cubby stayed in that downy-ball position… Finally, one day he hopped up to a high perch…”
After that time, Costanzo received a call notifying her that her mother had had a severe stroke; doctors were not optimistic about her survival.
“Sometime during that restless night, as I cried and prayed for (my mother’s) peacful passing, a voice within jolted me. Remember Cubby, it said. Where there is life, there is hope.
This story has an amazing circle to conclusion and, as all of the stories in this collection, it begins with something in a garden, reminding of the importance of seeking and finding the gifts in nature- and one might add that, in all things, God is good, and ”every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above.”
Text ©2020 Michele Caprario
Images provided by Mango Publishing, used with permission
The Twelve Gifts From the Garden: Life Lessons for Peace and Well-Being
By Charlene Costanzo
Beautiful Gift Book: $16.95