A Nice Early Spring Read

Phil Peters
Adams County Master Gardener

If you canít get out and play in the dirt just yet, reading about it is the next best thing. I have recently been attracted to a number of collections of garden writings by some of the greats in the field. Not only can I enjoy the vicarious thrill of personal glimpses of great gardens, but I appreciate being guided by some of the most authoritative gardeners and learn some real useful ideas. If you only have time to read in brief snatches, here are a handful of books to keep you happy. All of these books are written so that you can read a brief chapter and, either, continue, or put the book down. You will not lose the thread of the narrative and the book will be just as enjoyable. They are a great night table read.

If you havenít seen it yet, you must get a copy of A Blessing of Toads subtitled A Gardenerís Guide to Living with Nature by Sharon Lovejoy ( Hearst Books, 2004). This hardbound copy only cost me $14.95 and is richly illustrated on fine vellum by the author. It reminds me of the nice books I was given as a child. This book is a pleasure just to feel and look at. If you have the time to read it, all the better! This is a collection of essays that appeared in Country Living Gardener magazine. Her very personal experiences with plants and her garden are interspersed with recipes, advice, garden folklore and helpful suggestions. Learn how to make potpourri from garden to house or handle obnoxious squirrels, skunks or deer. The Littlestown birds particularly enjoy "<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Sharonís Super Energy-Booster for Birds" (p. 132). And what about her title? For the answer youíll just have to read the book! (Hint: think of a parliament of owls or gaggle of geese.)

In a Green Shade (Houghton Mifflin, 2000) is another title that catches your eye and makes you wonder what is in the book. These are "writings" by Allen Lacy who, after teaching philosophy, was garden columnist for the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. Calling them writings allows him to change his mind about plants and their use and not be as formal and didactic as much garden writing is. As he ranges through the garden year, Lacy shares a wealth of knowledge on an incredible number of topics, from designing his suburban garden to individual plant choices, tools, soil and pet peeves. Lacy has had personal experience with all the plants he discusses and has used many of them around his home. I find this very inspiring because he describes how he landscaped his own suburban property. The book closes with a list of reputable nurseries and an extensive bibliography Ė ideas for further reading.

Another fine read, arranged by the months of the year, is Henry Mitchell on Gardening (Houghton Mifflin, 1998). Henry Mitchell contributed the "Earthman" column to the Washington Post for several decades. A wealth of information in a most readable format sums up this book. Mitchell has a delightfully witty style and a insight that make every page of this book enjoyable and informative and make you feel you are walking with him through his garden. Subjects range from the common marigold to exotic succulents. He talks candidly about failures in his garden while the neighbor down the street is having extraordinary success with the same plant. Then there is the single lotus tuber that filled his ten foot diameter pond with three hundred tubers.

How about a florilegium (Sorry, I was a Latin teacher) of garden writing down through the centuries? American Garden Writing, An Anthology (Taylor Trade Publishing, 2003) presents great garden writers from the XVIIth century to the present. You can read about George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Liberty Hyde Bailey, Michael Pollan and a host of other distinguished figures as they discuss plants and gardens in their lives. Bonnie Marranca has compiled a number of anthologies, and you will enjoy keeping this on your bookshelf for those moments when a shot of inspiration is needed. These writings provoke thought and help us see our place in the long continually evolving history of the garden. David Fairchild writes of the cherry trees in the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C.; selections by J.I. Rodale and Michael Pollan compel us to consider our stance on the use of pesticides and chemicals in the garden. While the selections range across the centuries and across the country, there is something to be learned from all of them.

As gardeners we are always learning. These authors will entertain you while you learn from their experience.

Read other articles by Phillip Peters