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.