Apprentice to a Garden: Book Review

– Posted in: Book reviews

Apprentice to a Garden: A new urban gardener goes wild by Evelyn Hadden is a collection of essays chronicling the development of Hadden’s garden and her growth as a gardener. Evelyn starts out as “the omnipotent landowner,” but gradually discovers that she doesn’t know enough to be a totalitarian dictator. She begins observing more, and learns from her observations, becoming, as the title suggests, an apprentice to her garden. As you read through the chapters, you can see this transformation in her attitude taking place.

I thoroughly enjoyed Evelyn’s gardening memoir because she took me back to my own beginning garden days. Though her first garden was a small urban lot and mine was measured in acres, we shared a similar passion.

Over the years, my garden dreams became more lavish and more detailed. Their vividness spurred me to keep working, to narrow the gap between real garden and dream garden.

Was there more time to dream in those pre-internet days? I remember poring over gardening books, magazines and catalogs back then in a way I haven’t done for a long time. And Evelyn read the same books! She doesn’t hesitate to mention and quote from the garden books that inspired her. Of course, since we had the same fine taste in books, when she mentioned one I hadn’t read, you can bet I made plans to get it and read it soon. She lists them all in the back, too, a convenience that you don’t find in many essay books.

I sympathized with her struggle with creeping bellflower, and was surprised by her need to buy stones for her working paths. (Here, stones suitable for that are an annual crop.) And I marveled that “the thought of building a structure ten feet high and nearly forty feet long made [her] salivate.” It would have infused me with panic!

Creating a garden is sort of like solving a jigsaw puzzle, and Evelyn immerses us in her puzzling out process. More importantly, she communicates the frustration of ignorantly-made poor plant choices and “the singing in the blood, the mixture of pride and awe that comes from hosting a stunning [plant] combination.”

When I finished reading this book, I felt like I had connected with a kindred spirit. Her essays cover the first four years gardening in St. Paul, Minnesota, and I want to know what happened next. I’ve met Evelyn and I know her book Beautiful No-Mow Yards was published a year ago and she moved to Idaho earlier this year. There’s more to this story–I want to read the further adventures of Evelyn in her garden.

Evelyn Hadden, the author of Apprentice to a Garden, gave me the book to review. The opinions stated in the review are my own.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.

~Albert Camus in Albert Camus quotations

Comments on this entry are closed.

Tabletop Fountains December 27, 2013, 2:41 pm


This is how I started with my garden, I didn’t know what I was doing but now, like the book said, it’s like a puzzle and when it’s all done it feels great to look at and enjoy it every day.

Keep up the good work!

commonweeder December 25, 2013, 8:00 am

I love reading about how other gardeners have gained experience. I also enjoyed No Mow Yards so I will look for this.

Emily December 23, 2013, 12:08 pm

Thanks Kathy! Your review has definitely made me want to read the book. I think because I’m such a seat-of-the-pants type of gardener (who rarely remembers her mistakes to learn from them), it’s helpful to me to read people who are starting at the beginning and consciously working through what their gardens teach them.

Louise December 23, 2013, 7:03 am

I agree with all of you. Should we start a book lending group? Of course not. We’ll reread it, I am willing to bet.

Donna@Gardens Eye View December 23, 2013, 6:39 am

I will have to add her wonderful book to my growing list..right near the top of course!

Alison December 22, 2013, 12:54 pm

This sounds like an interesting book. I’ve put it on my Amazon wish list, for buying and reading later this winter.

Chloris December 22, 2013, 8:07 am

Hello Kathy,
An interesting book review. I have never heard of Evelyn Hadden but your review makes me want to read her book.