WORDS: Gardening Books

Last week (in the Daily Sentinel) we discussed New Year’s resolutions. One of mine was to read more books on gardening. So, I thought that this week we would look at some of the books on my reading list. Actually some of them are still on my shopping list, but many can be easily found by shopping web sites like amazon.com or alibris.com. Others I will merely borrow from  libraries. We have two very good libraries in Nacogdoches: the city library and SFA’s.

Let’s begin with In an Herb Garden by Annie Burnham Carter. This book was first published in 1947, and it describes Carter creating an herb garden outside New York City with the help of a hired, Italian gardener. Along these same lines is French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France by Richard Goodman. Mr. Goodman learns the ins and outs of French country life and the horticulture secrets of the small village where he spends a delightful year.

Another book on French gardening but written by Ferdinand Luquenne is again an account on personal gardening. My Friend the Garden was originally published in 1941 so the gardening world that Luquenne describes no longer exists. Gardening books aren’t just ‘how to’ books. Many have great value because they can take you off to another world. I understand this one is worth the read.

A semi-autobiographical book is Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth Von Arnim. All of her books are entertaining; but this first one, which is mostly about her garden, is the one that made her famous (I absolutely love her novels, they are cheerful; cheerfulness is needed in our day).

A biographical book is Miss Jekyll: A Portrait of a Gardener by Betty Massingham.  Gertrude Jekyll changed the way gardeners garden. Knowing her work is important for anyone wanting to understand gardening history.

A good picture book is The Gardens of Russell Page by Gabrielle van Zuylen. Page put his stamp on the gardening world as well. He was a professional garden designer who built and created gardens for wealthy patrons all over the world.

If you like to read other peoples’ letters, then you might try this book with letters from yet another famous gardener: Dearest Andrew: Letters from V. Sackville-West to Andrew Reiber, 1951-1962.

I like books about folks who discover plants in exotic places and then those plants finding their way into our humble gardens, as common as they may be. So, books on plant hunters are always of interest. The first one is written by Tyler Whittle called Plant Hunters. This book is about plant hunters from around the world whose plant discoveries have changed the way we garden here in the West. Another along these lines is Travels in China: A Plantsman’s Paradise, which was produced by the Antiques Collectors Club. This book is, of course, about Chinese plants that find their way into Western gardens.

Now, how about a bit of fiction or a mystery novel with some gardening in it? The first one is Murder in a Maze by A.W. Stewart who wrote under the pseudonym of J.J. Connington. This book really isn’t about gardening at all, but the murder that is solved takes place in a garden maze. Mystery writers, it seems, like having their victims meet their end in a garden maze Mizmaze by Mary Fitt is another book with this similar plot. The famous mystery writer Agatha Christie puts a bit of gardening in her Murder at the Vicarage. On the other hand, Crime in a Dutch Garden by Herbert Adams I know absolutely nothing about except that it was written in 1930 and the crime, apparently, takes place in a Dutch garden. Murder with Southern Hospitality by Leslie Ford takes place in Natchez, Mississippi. Finally, there is a whole set of mysteries by John Sherwood that feature the character Celia Grant. I have found one from this series, The Hanging Garden, at a used bookstore. If I have time this year, I will be giving it a read as well.

As you can tell from my list, these books aren’t necessarily ‘how to’ books, although there is usually a bit of horticultural knowledge in them. But I have found that you can only take so much ‘how to’, after a while I just need to be inspired. I hope you have good reading this year. Maybe one or two of these books will be on your list.

(Originally published in The Daily Sentinel Nacogdoches, Texas)

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