Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!: Notes from a Gloucester Garden by Kim Smith made me aware of my garden book prejudices: What kind of title is that? You just don’t start a title with “oh” and end it with an exclamation point! And then I read the back cover: “Drawn by the tender magic of her brush, one feels somehow renewed under the spell of the author’s singular warmth as we stroll within these pages in the intimacy of the secret garden she reveals.” Uh-oh. This is going to be one of those hearts-and-flowers books, filled with overblown prose. How am I ever going to say something nice about it?
First Impression Misleading
But I was wrong. It’s true Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities is not your typical garden book. It’s not a reference book, it’s not an instruction manual, and it’s not a coffee-table eye candy number. It’s a collection of essays whose common thread is fresh ideas for your garden, so, ahem, I guess the title is actually pretty apt. And the flowery prose of the back cover blurb wasn’t written by the author, anyway.
Beauty in All Its Forms
Think of these essays as a series of conversations with a gardener who has not only learned by doing, but spent some time researching the topics dear to her heart. The essays are loosely arranged chronologically and often touch on fragrant plants, attracting butterflies, or Oriental garden philosophy–often all three in the same chapter. Every essay opens with poetry and often quotes more poetry further on, and every chapter, as well as the front cover, is liberally illustrated with the author’s watercolors. You get the impression that Kim Smith is sensitive to beauty in all its forms, and she wants to share them all with you.
You will surely learn something from this book. In a chapter on her outdoor shower, I learned that some sweet autumn clematis vines have no fragrance at all, which confirmed my own experience of this plant that others call wonderfully fragrant. In a chapter describing her first year in the garden, growing nothing but annuals as she observed what was already planted there, I learned she gets bloom from a second sowing of corn poppies. I suspect my growing season is a bit shorter, so that may not work for me, but it had never occurred to me to try. I love fragrant yellow daylilies, and now I know of a few I didn’t know before. Kim devotes a chapter to them, and is just as fond of good ol’ ‘Hyperion’ as I am. And I had no idea there was a lily-of-the-valley native to North America until I read about it on page 172: Convallaria majuscula.
Prejudiced No Longer
By the time I was done, Kim’s infectious enthusiasm had won me over, and the conversation in my head had changed entirely: Really? I’ll have to try it in my garden. . . . Hmm, I never knew that. The thing is, this book moves at a more leisurely pace, reminiscent of the older time in which her house was built. For Smith, it’s not about the destination, but about enjoying the trip, which really, for a gardener, never ends. It’s a great book to read in the winter, when you want a book to inspire daydreams as you peruse through mail order catalogs. It’s a great book to give to a gardener, precisely because, since it’s not a reference book, how-to manual, or eye candy number, they might not think it’s for them. But if they’re anything like me, they’ll get over their prejudices.
Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! is one of the prizes being offered in our scavenger hunt Have you entered yet?