Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Gardener's Stack 1: The Grande Dames.

I was reading Daffodil Planter's blog tonight (it's about Eleanor Perenyi...what a treat!) and was tickled to read the following in one of the comments:

"I just came across this writer in another blog (wish I could remember which one) and immediately requested the title from our local library...Another book the blogger recommended was Anne Raver's Deep in the Green, which is now also on my to-read list."

Gee, I wonder who that mystery blogger could be? Wow, this means somebody is paying attention! The commenter went on to ask for other titles, and all of a sudden I felt a blog post coming on. The Red Umbrella will have to wait just a bit longer.

So I've gathered up some more of my favorite garden books, and will continue to share them with you. Tonight I'm going to start with two Grande Dames of garden writing.

'We Made a Garden'
by Margery Fish (2002)
edited by Michael Pollan for the Modern Library Gardening Series

In the late 1930's, as WWII approached, Margery Fish and her husband Walter (long-time editor of London's Daily Mail newspaper) decided to retire to the safety of the country. Their friends assumed they would buy something neat and tidy and move right in. In Margery's words: "When, instead, we chose a poor battered old house that had to be gutted to be livable, and a wilderness instead of a garden, they were really sorry for us...how would two Londoners go about the job of creating a garden from a farmyard and a rubbish heap?"

This book is the story of how they did just that; and anyone who has ever tried to build a garden with an opinionated spouse (of opposing tastes) will appreciate what poor Margery went through. After Walter's death, Margery went on to finish the garden HER way, and become one of England's leading gardeners and garden writers. She published six other books, was named a classic garden writer by the Royal Horticultural Society, and welcomed thousands of visitors a year to her garden in Somerset. But I love this first little volume of hers the best. Read it if only to learn of the horrible things Walter did to Margery's delphiniums...

'Onward and Upward in the Garden'
by Katherine S. White (1979)

Katherine S. White was an editor at the New Yorker Magazine for 34 years. After her retirement in 1958, she wrote a series of 14 garden articles that appeared in its pages over the next 12 years.

Katherine was a passionate gardener who would think of nothing of wading into her borders in Ferragamo shoes and tweed suits...as her husband said, "she refused to dress down to the garden." I think of her every time I find myself knee deep in a project, wearing my "good " jeans!

Her articles were detailed reviews (often critiques, not all of them favorable) of the catalogs, published by seed companies and nurseries, that she poured over each winter. They were one of the only sources of information about plants and seeds for gardeners of her generation. After her death, the articles were compiled into a book, with a charming introduction by her husband, children's author E.B. White, quoted here:
"The thing that started her off was her discovery that the catalog makers--the men and women of her dreams--were, in fact writers. Expression was the need of their souls. To an editor of Katherine's stature, a writer is a special being, as fascinating as a bright beetle...'Reading this literature,' she wrote, 'is unlike any other reading experience. Too much goes on all at once. I read for news, for driblets of knowledge, for aesthetic pleasure, and at the same time I am planning the future, and so I read in a dream.'"
These books are like old friends, and I feel honored to introduce them. Please enjoy! Next up? Elizabeth Lawrence, I think...


  1. Thanks for the recommendations, Laura. I'll need a new book soon as I'm just finishing Judith Larner Lowry's 'The Landscaping Ideas of Jays'. I've really enjoyed it for the good information about California native gardening. But it really shines with descriptions from the original Native Californians of the long-gone flower fields which will make you weep for what is lost.

  2. Dear Barbara,
    My turn to thank you for the recommendation...if you look at my 'stack' photo you might see Judith's 'Gardening With a Wild Heart.' If that book doesn't make you fall in love with Cal natives, nothing will! I'll be discussing it in a later post...must pay homage to the Venerables first!

  3. Well now I am demanding a part two to this post (or at least an explanatory comment!) What did happen to Margery's delphiniums?

  4. Barbara,
    So glad to have found you again! Keeping up with all the interesting blogs out there can be a full-time job. Since I love reading as much as I love gardening I believe I will be returning here again and again so keep the suggestions coming.

  5. Christine,
    Thank you! I hope you don't mind that I quoted your comment to DP, it was the first time that's happened and I thought it was cool! Do keep coming back; I know the garden blogging community is vast and rich (just look at DP's blogroll!) and I would be honored to add to the mix!


  6. Susan, what? And spoil the surprise for everyone? Just rest assured that it was something NOT good, and I'll bring my copy tomorrow, K?

  7. Anne Raver's columns in the New York Times and their republishing in Through the Green is what made me want to write about what I do. She is an authentic and original voice.

  8. Hello: I loved Katherine White's book. And I just bought "Green Thoughts" after reading your earlier post as well as some of the other Twitter writers. Thanks for the suggestion. Can't wait to get started. Teresa

  9. Elizabeth Lawrence is one of my favorites. I think I have every book she published and that others published of her writings, plus her biography and the book of letters between her and Katharine S. White. She's a treasure, and I think she would have loved blogging and connecting with other gardeners.

  10. @Carol LOL I think Elizabeth would have LOVED blogging and Twitter! Her correspondence with farm women and fascination with market bulletins were kind of like the Twitter of her day. I haven't read all of her books, but have always treasured 'A Garden of One's Own' in particular. I might save that post for after I get back from the GWA Symposium in Raleigh; I think I'll feel closer to her then! Thanks for visiting.

  11. Laura, I may see you in Raleigh at the GWA symposium!