Fireworks, Gardening, and Gardening Books

The supermarket shut down the garden center to open a fireworks tent. Imagine my surprise to discover flowers had been replaced by firecrackers. I’d hoped to buy begonias, snapdragons, pansies, and marigolds at deep discount prices (75% off).

Fireworks used to be illegal in this state, except for public firework displays at parks, and that is the law in my city, too.  But anyone can buy fireworks in the suburbs.  The BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! has already begun. Naturally, some of my fellow citizens will put on a noisy, unwanted show, too.  I will turn on the AC to drown out the noise of the errant combustibles. 

I’m so disappointed that the garden center closed early. But on a philosophical note, the plants were getting pretty wilted. The cashier took one look at the dried-up snapdragons last week  and told me to take another four-pack free. 

Most of the discount plants are fine, but something weird is going on with the new geraniums: the petals in the middle of each flower crumple and turn brown while the outside petals blossom.   Some  gross wormy things live under the pot of marigolds, so I isolated it.  Should I throw it out?   And don’t get me started on the seeds:  I planted  sunflower seeds and coneflower seeds, but the plants are only 6 inches tall. That is, if they are indeed sunflowers and coneflowers.  Nothing has bloomed yet.  Everything is“deer-proof” and “drought-proof,” but how about “rabbit-proof”?

I ask, “Do you know which are the flowers and which are the weeds?” 

“Wait and see,” one  non-gardener suggests.

I love gardening books, especially memoirs and comical chronicles.  Among my favorites is Beverly Nichols’s Merry Hall trilogy, Merry Hall, Laughter on the Stairs, and  Sunlight on the Lawn.  Not only is he a great gardener, he is a charming and often funny writer.  He writes, “ I love geraniums, and anybody who does not love geraniums must obviously be a depraved and loathsome person.”

I love geraniums.  They last for years if you bring them inside  for the winter.  My mother and grandmother used to compete to see who could grow the best geraniums.  Mother always won.  “And I don’t do anything except water them.”

Perhaps I am also fond of geraniums because of my love of Elizabeth Goudge’s books.  I vaguely recall, perhaps in her novel, A Little White Horse, that Maria comes across a small hidden house with geraniums in the window. (This detail may be wrong, as I haven’t read this book in eons.)   Gardens are always important in Elizabeth Goudge’s novels.  In The White Witch, Froniga, who is half gypsy and reputed to be a witch, has a quasi-magical touch with her garden.  There are flowers, trees, shrubs, and medicinal herbs. She is a healer.

In E. Nesbit’s The Lark, her best adult novel, flowers are the bread and butter of Jane and Lucilla, whose guardian has gambled away their money.  All they have left is a tiny cottage with a pretty garden.  They sell the the flowers – until all the flowers are gone. 

Then they don’t know what to do.  Buy another house?  Plant another garden?  But it takes time for a garden to grow.

…they bought a gardening book – and spent the evening over it.  You tend to sit in the kitchen when it is very light and clean, bright with gay-coloured crockery and sparkling with tinsmith’s work; and when you have it to yourselves; and when, anyhow, you have to get your own supper, and you may as well eat it where you cook it…  Especially when the kitchen window looks out on the back garden, where the fruit trees are near blossom, and the parlours both look out on the front garden, the whole of whose floral splendour was just sold for fifteen shillings and ninepence. 

 What are your favorite garden books, novels, or poems?

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?

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