Henry Nicholson Ellacombe believed that every great gardener reads a lot of gardening books:
I have always found that a lover of gardens and flowers is also more or less a lover and reader of books. … and the more they love their gardens and their flowers the more they wish to read about them; and the more they get to know from books the more they desire to know; and when cut off from their gardens by snow and frost they still find plenty of employment and pleasant work in reading of their favourites; and the best gardeners are the greatest readers, for Sir Thomas Browne’s saying holds good with gardening and botany as much as in other pursuits, “They do most by books, who could do much without them.” (from In My Vicarage Garden and Elsewhere)
Whether or not it makes me a better gardener, I love to read books about gardening–how-to books, gorgeous visit-garden books, insightful essays, inspiring memoirs, letters between gardeners, and gardening fiction. I bet you do, too.
Good gardeners make good friends
I recently read Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening: How I Learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart by Carol Wall. Unlike the solitary nature of many gardening memoirs, the Guide to Gardening is about a friendship that develops through gardening. At the beginning of the book, Carol Wall is a non-gardener, stuck in anxiety and fear from her bout with cancer. She hires Giles Owita to tidy up her neglected yard, thinking him an uneducated laborer but admiring his work in a neighbor’s yard. She gradually comes to find out this unassuming man who holds a second job as a supermarket clerk has a doctorate in horticulture from a university in Africa, but has been unable to get a job in his chosen profession. What fascinates me most about this book is seeing how Giles gradually converts Carol from a non-gardener (in fact, because of childhood associations, almost a plant hater) into someone who delights in planning for and working in her garden. Carol eventually becomes friends not only with Giles, but his entire family, and has opportunity to help him in non-gardening ways as the
story memoir unfolds. This is a true story, but I found myself thinking of it as a novel–perhaps because it is so thoroughly about relationships that aren’t predominantly about gardening, but are built through gardening.
The Garden Conservancy celebrates 25 years
I love the work the Garden Conservancy is doing preserving important gardens, and I love to visit private gardens through the Open Days that they sponsor. So I was delighted to have the chance to review Outstanding American Gardens: A Celebration: 25 Years of the Garden Conservancy by Page Dickey. I’ll be frank: this book is a tease. Even at an oversize 272 pages, there are so many gardens to profile that there is no more than a page of text and a few pages of gorgeous photos (all by Marion Brenner) for each garden. If you currently aren’t a member of the Garden Conservancy, merely browsing this book will prompt you to join. If you are a member, like me you will be looking up the gardens you already visited and checking out the ones you are likely to be able to get to. There were a few photos that gave me ideas for my own garden, but mostly it whetted my appetite for a gardening junket next year. So many gardens, so little time!
Secrets of the bulb-forcing ninja
If you have ever been disappointed with your attempts at forcing bulbs, Art Wolks’ Bulb Forcing for Beginners and the Seriously Smitten is your new secret weapon. As a two-time winner of the Grand Sweepstakes Awards at the Philadelphia Flower Show as well as “bundles of blue ribbons and silver cups,” what this guy doesn’t know about forcing bulbs is probably not worth knowing. What happens if you don’t give hyacinths enough chilling time? How can you slow down the rate at which the flowers open? And have you considered forcing arisaemas? Whether you just want a few flowers for your windowsill in the depths of winter, or you have hopes of winning blue ribbons at a major flower show, this book will show you what to do and when–and what not to do. The author writes in a very humorous style that will either have you chuckling or rolling your eyes, but he knows his stuff. This is a book I’ll be reading again and again, because I know I didn’t get it all the first time–and next time I’ll be underlining and taking notes.
The best children’s garden book, ever
If you didn’t read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett when you were young, it’s time to make up for a misspent childhood. Perhaps, like me, you grew up with the version illustrated by Tasha Tudor. I used to think that was the only illustrations the book ever had. Noooooo. Take a look! It’s not under copyright and anyone can print up a copy. Several years ago, my daughter and I checked every version available through our library’s interlibrary loan network, and I thought the version illustrated by Inga Moore
was best. Sadly, it is out of print and the few copies I found were rather pricey. But keep your eye out for it at book sales–you might get lucky. This is one instance where you really need to flip through the book and check all the illustrations before you buy it. Just because anyone can print a copy of it doesn’t mean they will do a good job of it.
Need more books?
Here’s a Roundup of Cold Climate and Short Season Gardening books, listed in alphabetical order with mini-reviews of each. Individual, lengthier book reviews listed here.
Thanks to Carol of May Dreams Gardens, who introduced me to the quote from Canon Ellacombe. I received a review copy of Outstanding American Gardens; other books reviewed were my personal possession or checked out of the public library. All links to Amazon pages are affilate links, which means I get a small commission if you buy something after clicking. It helps keep this place running.