Should there be more to a gardening book than the expected “how to” or quick reference? Absolutely! Our garden library should be as vast and varied as the garden itself.
Once upon a time, in the not-so-distant past, there were phenomenal garden writers. Gardening was the number one leisure activity; therefore, it only seemed natural to write about it. There have and will always be the standard references highlighting all we need to identify diseases, pests, grow larger tomatoes, protect tender plants from frost and so on but there are a precious few who took pride in weaving a tale that not only told a story but could also advise in a very unique way. My article is but one of a few this week which will highlight gardening literature. You will discover the artful words of Gertrude Jekyll and be whisked away to Mary's Secret Garden and more. I will be the one that takes you on a journey through the pages of a wonderful collection of books known as The Modern Library Gardening Series.
I cannot recall exactly when I discovered this series. I know I was performing a Google search on Garden Literature and if memory serves, Old Herbaceous by Reginald Arkell was at or near the top of the search results and the link taking me to Amazon. My curiosity piqued, I clicked on the link and was instantly enthralled as I read the various detailed reviews. The review that convinced me to purchase was offered by one of Amazon's customers, Dianne Foster:
Reginald Arkell's lovely book OLD HERBACEOUS is unusual as it is a novel about gardening with a gardener protagonist. Michael Pollen and company have added this book to their ever expanding collection of gardening gems-The Modern Library Garden Series. Old Herbaceous was first published in 1950.
At the opening of the book, Pinnegar the protagonist has retired and is living in a cottage on the estate where he gardened for over 60 years. He reflects on how he began his gardening career when Mrs Charteris instructed her head gardener, a Mr. Addis, to hire him after he won a wild flower arrangment contest she judged. Sixty years later, Pinnegar has replaced Addis and acquired his nickname `Old Herbaceous' from the younger gardeners who view him as a relic of a bygone era.
Everything this reviewer mentioned was music to my ears. I ordered the book along with a few others and looked forward to its arrival. Old Herbaceous is a short, quick read as are most of the books in this series. Each time I picked up the book, I found myself in the beautiful contryside of 19th century England. I could smell the dirt, picture the forget-me-nots and empathize with the aging characters. All the while, I was learning without realizing it. You have nothing to fear if strawberry plants get a bit of frost if there are no flowers. The flowers and buds are tender so as long as it is not in bloom when there is a hard freeze, you should be okay. There is nothing more integral to the success of a garden than quality soil. There are many more garden lessons but I will let you discover them for yourself.
As Michael Pollan mentions in his introduction, you will not find general "how to garden" information but you will discover the stories behind the gardens and the gardeners themselves. For example, how many of you out there are enamored by the legendary Tibetan Blue Poppy? I know I am. It's a gorgeous, mystical flower and a delight in any garden. Frank Kingdon Ward collected the first viable seed from this plant, along with discovering many other elusive plant species. In the Land of the Blue Poppies provides captivating, engrossing details of Ward's adventurous expeditions. As you read, you will recognize many plants you are already growing or perhaps wish to grow. Once you finish the book, you will have a newfound appreciation for the origin of many cherished flowering plants. I actually found myself saying thank you aloud to Mr. Ward.
I could go on for pages and pages about the many attributes of all the books in this series. I think it would be best however if you begin the journey of discovering some of the finest gardening books available yourself. Allow yourself to let go and enjoy the journey of the mind and soul that these books provide. Once you finish the last page of each book you will gain a better understanding of your own garden and have a deeper appreciation of your role in creating something with a little bit of earth.
Thumbnail image is a scan of Old Herbaceous. Blue poppy image is from Wikimedia Commons -- It is such a beautiful flower isn't it?
About Benjamin Hill
I am an old fashioned gardener. To me nothing is finer than the romantic cottage gardens. The colours and forms create a symphony to delight all the senses. I love to tell a good story and my garden provides my inspiration. I am blessed to have such a beautiful son and I enjoy teaching him to love and appreciate the goodness, peace and fulfillment tending a garden can bring. Finally, I shall be forever grateful to Alan Titchmarsh for inspiring me to get out there and make something out of a little bit of earth.