The Joy of Reading about Gardens


I am not a gardener, but I am thinking about gardens.   It’s nice  to think of flowers on a warmish day in March.  We dragged the Adirondack chairs out of the basement and sat idly chatting outdoors for the first time this year.  It’s all mud and brown, no grass yet, but I hope to plant night-blooming moonflowers: night is the coolest time to garden.

This year I’ve vowed to  plant something besides reliable geraniums.  Are moonflowers feasible?  I am inspired by Elizabeth von Arnim’s Elizabeth and Her German Garden, a lovely autobiographical novel about life in her beautiful wild garden; Beverley Nichols’s insanely funny Merry Hall trilogy; Katharine S. White’s Onward and Upward in the Garden, a collection of gardening columns from The New Yorker;  and Dorothy van Doren’s The Country Wife,  essays about summers at the Van Dorens’ farm in Connecticut.

And since I know so little about plants, I’m writing down all the flowers I come across in gardening literature.

Dandelions (got them!), lilacs, wortleberries, Virginia creeper, daisies, celandines, white anemones, violets, blue hepaticas, periwinkles, birdcherries, peonies, crocuses, Ipomoea, sweet peas…

The list will be long.

But where is my sundial?

And aren’t you inspired by this passage from Elizabeth and Her Garden?

I am always happy (out of doors be it understood, for indoors there are servants and furniture) but in quite different ways, and my spring happiness bears no resemblance to my summer or autumn happiness, though it is not more intense, and there were days last winter when I danced for sheer joy out in my frost-bound garden, in spite of my years and children. But I did it behind a bush, having a due regard for the decencies.

Indeed, so little did it enter my head to even use the place in summer, that I submitted to weeks of seaside life with all its horrors every year; until at last, in the early spring of last year, having come down for the opening of the village school, and wandering out afterwards into the bare and desolate garden, I don’t know what smell of wet earth or rotting leaves brought back my childhood with a rush and all the happy days I had spent in a garden. Shall I ever forget that day? It was the beginning of my real life, my coming of age as it were, and entering into my kingdom. Early March, gray, quiet skies, and brown, quiet earth; leafless and sad and lonely enough out there in the damp and silence, yet there I stood feeling the same rapture of pure delight in the first breath of spring that I used to as a child, and the five wasted years fell from me like a cloak, and the world was full of hope, and I vowed myself then and there to nature, and have been happy ever since

Three of the writers/heroines of these four books had hired help.  The exception is Dorothy Van Doren, who was an editor at The Nation, the wife of the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and critic Mark Van Doren, and the mother of Charles Van Doren, who was involved in a quiz show scandal.

Any favorite gardening books?

6 thoughts on “The Joy of Reading about Gardens”

    1. Oh no! Gina, you’ve done it again, and now the bog convinces me I must read it. Let’s hope the library has it.

      Sent from my iPad


  1. Two garden writers I’ve enjoyed are Elizabeth Lawrence (Through the Garden Gate) and Henry Mitchell (One Man’s Garden). Lawrence is quite erudite, often quoting the classics and poetry. Mitchell is more chatty. If you like Katharine S. White’s book on gardening, you might like Two Gardeners, which is correspondence between Katharine S. White and Elizabeth Lawrence.

    1. Joan, I have never heard of these authors. I’m looking for inspiration so I’ll actually plant some seeds instead of the usual few plants for non-gardeners! I can imagine nothing better than Katharine White’s correspondence.

      Sent from my iPad


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