In the Garden:
Settle into a comfortable chair and read some of the best gardening literature to get inspired for the year ahead.
A Winter's Reading
What may come as a surprise to those who are familiar with my personal library of thousands of books, is that among the many things that changed as I went from childhood to what passes for adulthood was a loss of interest in reading. Or, at least reading as I used to do, as in "from cover to cover." But there are still piles of books by my chairs and bed. For now, my reading consists of studying various references. Still, there are times when a "good read" entices, and no more so for gardeners than during the winter, when instead of sugarplums there are perfectly grown flowers or vegetables in dancing in our heads.
So where might a gardener look for a bit of diversion and perhaps even some inspiration this winter when you feel like you are unable to peruse even one more seed or plant catalog page? Through the years there has been no dearth of books that are personal accounts of gardening experiences. In general, these books share the trials and tribulations of gardening, often with some useful insights into particular plants or aspects of gardening. One of the best ways to explore the range of possibilities is through anthologies of garden writing. Another option is the books that explore some of the interesting facts and aspects of gardening. And, finally, there are some suggestions of delightful page-turning old-fashioned reads.
American Garden Writing: An Anthology, edited by Bonnie Marranca (Taylor Trade Publishing, expanded edition in 2003; $18.95), features letters, travel journals, essays, natural histories, and seed catalogs of over fifty authors, with topics ranging from the decorative gardens of the past to the ecological concerns of today.
The Virago Book of Women Gardeners, edited by Deborah Kellaway (Virago Press, 2001; $15.45), has pieces culled from books and articles of the eighteenth century onward. The book is divided into chapters including Weeders and Diggers, Advisers and Designers, Colourists, Countrywomen, Townswomen, Visitors and Travelers, Kitchen Gardeners, Flower Arrangers, and Visionaries.
My Favorite Plant: Writers and Gardeners on the Plant They Love (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998; $20) is an anthology edited by novelist Jamaica Kincaid. This is a quirky compilation of writings ranging from the practical, such as Ken Druse's essay on how to grow Jack-in-the-pulpit from seed; to the lyrical, with Colette's writings on lilies and hellebores. There is even some poetry scattered among the essays.
Bloom & Blossom: The Reader's Guide to Gardening (Ecco Press, 1998; $15) is edited by poet, scholar, and gardener Mary Swander. This collection of writings is a medley of essays, poetry, and fiction largely by twentieth-century writers. The book is divided into four sections, each with a theme: the connection between garden and family, seeds, the garden in the natural world, and the garden in history and society.
Artist, writer, and gardener Ferris Cook has illustrated and edited three anthologies, including Remembered Gardens (Bullfinch Press, 1993; $21.95), Invitation to the Garden: A Celebration in Literature & Photography (Stewart, Tabori, & Chang, 1995; $27.50), and Garden Dreams (Stewart, Tabori, & Chang, 1991; $19.95).
The Writer in the Garden, edited by Jane Garmey (Algonquin Books, 1999; $18.95) appeals to both diehard gardeners and those who appreciate fine writing, with its inclusion of famous writers of up to a century past as well as columnists and authors of today.
The Armchair Book of the Garden, by Dr. D. G. Hessayon (Sterling Publishing, 1995; $17.20), is an eclectic mixture of essays on a wide array of subjects ranging from Gregor Mendel to beefsteak tomatoes, rose mania in Rome, urban foxes, nettle soup, and many more.
The World in Your Garden, published in 1957, is a volume in the National Geographic Natural Science Library and consists mainly of brief articles about the various ornamentals, fruits, and vegetables found in our gardens.
Somewhat a gardener's P. G. Wodehouse, Englishman Beverly Nichols was a prolific twentieth-century writer who wrote about (among other things) his gardens and homes along with the underlying emotions and obsessions and a riotous cast of characters. The eight books have been reissued by Timber Press. Start with Down the Garden Path.
For those who love mysteries, try any of the China Bayles series by Suan Wittig Albert. Each has an herb as part of the theme and is set in present-day Texas, where attorney-turned-herbalist China Bayles solves some dastardly crime, complete with recipes.
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