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The Well-Tempered Garden is for gardeners who have not been dragged into this pursuit but are here because they love it." So writes Christopher Lloyd in the Introduction to this superb book. Here the beginning gardener will learn the basic skills of planting, pruning, weeding, staking, and deadheading. More advanced gardening enthusiasts are guided through ways to propagate plants, to select and care for different kinds of plants - perennials, shrubs, climbers, bulbs - and are also offered ideas about the many different kinds of gardens one might keep. He offers advice on roses, vegetables, fruits, ornamental plants, wild gardening in grass, and more. A strong-minded instructor, Lloyd knows that errors are inevitable, and rather than scolding encourages learning through experience. He opens our eyes to the beauty of the unexpected surprises that happen in the garden, whether on the part of the "fallible plant" or the "fallible gardener." All this from the man Henry Mitchell called "possibly the best garden writer alive."
This is a classic, the indespensible British gardening book which so incredibly influenced American garden writers that their casual use of his witty language in this book caused us to actually believe that we Americans had come up with such thoughts ourselves ("garden thug" being just one).
I've heard it often said that the British can't possibly know how plants do in our varied American climate, characterized by extremes, and that is true. One need only see one British designed garden here in the US (I am thinking of one Verey garden in particular in Austin TX), beautifully designed but with usually suffering plants (well, except maybe in CA). Most of us can't "do" most British plants. But no one, and certainly not many here in the US, understands gardening and gardening design better than do the British. We have much to learn from them in that regard regardless of climatic differences.
Has any other single Western nation applied such passion to collecting, nomenclature, propagation, designing with and the tending of plants than the British have? When is the last time you had a conversation with a cabbie in the US about the nomenclatural confusions in Papaver? Not in the US, I bet, but it's not unusual in the UK where gardening is truly a primary passion.
Lloyd's book is one of those lucid, well written British garden books that should sit along side your tomes of Miss Jekyll and Robinson, Thomas and Sackville-West. None of these speaks in short hand, none of these is obscured with ego ceramics or ignorance. They are pure, experienced and informed gardening, like our own Elizabeth Lawrence, and there is much to be learned, not only about design, but also about living with and caring for plants, wherever you live. You can always substitute the plant that is inappropriate for your climate that is mentioned in the book, once you finally understand why the plant originally mentioned was put there in the first place. Good books like this one tell you that.
Perhaps I find it easy to learn from the Brits because I've spent my long gardening life substituting plants that the American garden establishment, through books and magazines, assured me were right or wrong for the "south". And most of the time they were wrong. After all, how could those yankees up on the east coast, even the southern ones, possibly know that the ground never freezes here in the gulf south, February temps can hover in the 70's, amaryllis in the garden *never go dormant (and even if they get frozen back,they still bloom), 99% of the Hostas hate us and tomatoes don't set fruit after May because of the heat? We grow spinach lettuce and mustard in winter, prune our roses in the yankee winter and the few trees which do show "fall color" don't do so until Christmas. It is the lack of cold here that is the problem, not the cold. So it's not a big jump to go to the Brits when trying to learn about gardening - ignore what they say about what you can grow and when - it doesn't matter whether they are American or British.