Sunday, May 31, 2009

Next in the Pantheon...

With Book Expo America going on this week in New York, there has been a lot of discussion among garden communicators about the future of garden writing. Which got me thinking about what I, as a writer, gardener and designer, like to read, and why.

When I started gardening as a young stay-at-home mom over twenty years ago, I craved information with all the appetite of a neophyte. My bibles were Sunset and Fine Gardening magazines, and the many fine books from their presses. We didn't have the Internets in those days, people! We had newspapers, books, magazines and catalogs, and whatever community we could find among local gardeners.

The highlight of my day was walking with the kids the 1/4 mile to the mailbox, to see what might have come...the 80's equivalent of "Check Inbox" I suppose. My busy mind and gardener's soul, which are now replete with every sort of wit, wisdom and news in the form of Twitter tweets, garden blogs, and a career as a garden designer, had to be satisfied then with the dog-eared stacks by my bed. I still have the first issue of Fine Gardening; I'm an inaugural subscriber, and learned much from its pages. You should see my cabinet of back issues, rivaled only by Sunset in their sanctity.

As I wrote in my first 'InterLeafings' post, one genre of garden writing that I found particularly satisfying in my search for gardening wisdom was the essay. Such a nice, old-fashioned word that seems now, but isn't a blog just that? Eleanor Perenyi was a master of the garden essay, and after reading 'Green Thoughts' I wanted more. Tell me a story about a garden! I found many wonderful writers, but using the nightstand-o-meter, there was no question which one I would introduce next.

'Deep In The Green, An Exploration of Country Pleasures'
by Anne Raver
Anne Raver is the garden columnist for the New York Times. 'Deep in the Green' is a collection of her early columns, mostly from her days as a garden columnist for Newsday on Long Island, but also after her transition to the Times.

I've re-read 'Deep in the Green' nearly as many times as 'Green Thoughts.' The decidedly more contemporary style is a nice contrast, and her foibles as a gardener, charmingly relayed, are particularly endearing. The way she interweaves her own life with that of other gardeners, gardens, pets, friends and readers gives her stories an earthy flavor that touches my heart. I admire her independent spirit; she is a woman living by her own lights.

As with Eleanor, if you are not familiar with this book, I will let Anne make the introduction in her own words. It is, as far as I know, the only collection of her work that has been published (but would be happy to know that I'm mistaken!)

~From the introduction to 'Deep in the Green, An Exploration of Country Pleasures' (copyright 1995 by Anne Raver. Cover shown is from the first Vintage Books edition, May 1996)
"This is not a book that will tell you how to site your garden, or which of the old roses you dare not live without. It does not unravel the mysteries of science or even the Linnaean binomial system. It tells the story of the earthworm and the sea turtle. Of a goose separated from her goslings on the Long Island Expressway. Of the children of farmers who now live in big cities--as the old fields turn into house lots and golf courses. It's about growing old. It's about losing things you love. Dogs, places, people.

But as any gardener knows, it is about going on. Building new gardens, if the old one has been ravaged by a hurricane--or a housing development. Taking the spirit of a beloved dog or person with you, long after you have buried her, as you take a walk she would have loved, or bake his favorite pie, or set the bright faces of Autumn Beauty sunflowers in a lovely old vase from your mother's house.

And exactly. I hope to do the same.


  1. Sounds like a lovely one. I'm adding it to my list.

    My first garden book was "Making Things Grow", by Thalassa Cruso. I used to watch her PBS show with my mother. Loved her raspy, no nonsense voice.

    Did my first re-potting job with her book, open to that section. Learned from her the all important trick of rapping a plant pot hard, to dislodge plant from pot.

  2. Thanks, Sarah...I've not read 'Making Things Grow' but that is certainly a familiar name! Thanks for reading, as always!

  3. Laura: you are making a wonderful splash in the sea of bloggers. My first foray into plant books must have been Sunset's little bonsai tome. A bit less erudite than your start but it opened a door that's taken me into a mind boggling career far from my roots as a musician.

    To paraphrase: The longest journey starts with a good read.

  4. Thanks, Billy! I've been a book AND plant lover all my life...seems a good way to jump in to the sea of blogs! Your support and encouragement has been so valuable...thanks again!

  5. I agree with Billy, your blog has a unique and thoughtful point of view. Although having said that, the joy you take in gardening books and essays separate from the "how to" books that most of us gravitate towards reminds me of some of VW's posts on her blog - and Pomona Belvedere from Tulips in the Woods is also a major reader of garden books.

    Hmmm...maybe a garden blogger's book club?