I love a good gardening quote, and Henry Mitchell is eminently quotable.
It is a great joy the day we discover that we can learn things without having to make the mistake ourselves. (p. 81)
What makes a good garden quote? Well, I could take the easy way out and say I know it when I see it. In the end of course, that’s what it boils down to. But if I had to narrow it down, I’d say a good quote has three characteristics:
- Conciseness. I confess to pushing the limits with this one. Some bon mots just make more sense with a bit of context.
There may be a fine line between improving garden flowers and making them ugly. (p. 67)
The secret of success in tidying up the garden is, simply, not to start new projects. (p. 34)
The trouble with master plans in gardens, then, is simply that they do not take into account masterful plants. Nor addled masters. (p. 236)
Sleet, incidentally, is the worst five-letter four-letter word I know. (p. 120)
- A nugget of truth or wisdom.
Fortunately, by the thirtieth or fortieth or fiftieth year or thereabouts, the gardener strikes that balance by which he has the best of all seasons. By the time one is eighty, it is said, there is no longer a tug of war in the garden with the May flowers hauling like mad against the claims of the other months. All is at last in balance and all is serene. The gardener is usually dead, of course. (p. 25)
It should be said, though without any intention of adding to the world’s already adequate store of guilt, that the average gardener is surprisingly lazy and, not to split hairs about it, pig-headed. (p. 45)
Gardening is not some sort of game by which one proves his superiority over others, nor is it a marketplace for the display of elegant things that others cannot afford. It is, on the contrary, a growing work of creation, endless in its changing elements. It is not a monument or an achievement, but a sort of traveling, a kind of pilgrimage you might say, often a bit grubby and sweaty though true pilgrims do not mind that. A garden is not a picture, but a language, which is of course the major art of life. (pp. 71-72)
- A surprise or unexpected twist. I think Mark Twain explains it best: “Wit is the sudden marriage of ideas which before their union were not perceived to have any relation.”
. . . the full double [peonies], very like dahlias that have gone to heaven and been transformed. (p. 20)
Now, nobody imagines his modest little patch is going to be the greatest thing since copper bracelets, no. But it will be personal, and it will be fascinating, because there is no such thing as dullness when the gardener is going full steam ahead and damn the torpedoes, as it were. (p. 80)
The biggest crocuses are also excellent for gardeners who fear they are themselves getting almost too refined to breathe. (p. 86)
But along the way we really do learn that marigolds gain enormously in impact when used as sparingly as ultimatums. (p.97)
But a garden is somewhat exalted above ordinary notions of correctness. A garden is more than a matter of the right fish fork, as it were. (p.136)
I have been re-reading The Essential Earthman by Henry Mitchell for the Garden Blogger’s Book Club. I found it extremely difficult to write this post; there was just so much to say about Henry Mitchell that it was hard to know where to begin. I finally had to limit myself to one topic per post, and I can see already that I will not be able to get to the other posts about him that I had in mind. But no matter. That just means I have a good reason to re-read this book again. As if I need an excuse. You should know that there are several editions of this book, as detailed here. I have the Houghton Mifflin expanded edition, and the page numbers after every quote reference that edition.
Compared to gardeners, I think it is generally agreed that others understand very little about anything of consequence. (p. 41)