Thursday, June 26, 2008

Garden Reading

Last week, I finally got around to visiting our local bookseller. Since Cooper called attention to this year being the centenary of Kenneth Grahame's The Wind and the Willows, I'd been wanting to pick up a copy to put on the top of my summer reading pile, and so I went with that in mind.

After a few moments of exploring the shelves (I only want one copy of nearly everything!), I found the book and made my way to the cashier. And there I was ambushed by the quiet display of the book pictured above, Hortus Miscellaneous: A Gardener's Hodgepodge of Information and Instruction by Lorene Edwards Forkner and Linda Plato.

Perhaps because I am a gardener who reads, I have few actual guides to plants and their culture. Certainly on my shelves is a worn and a little muddy copy of Barbara Damrosch's The Garden Primer and the Golden Guide to Wildflowers, circa early 1950s.

But most of the books on my shelves are a little more scattershot in their contents. After all, while the care, feeding and nurturing of plants is a gardener's focus, it's nice to have a broader view of the gardening world. How have other gardeners addressed a particular issue? Why have they decided to group a particular collection of plants as they have? So I have enjoyed reading anything by Vita Sackville West and also the more native plant focussed Noah's Garden series by Sara Stein.

I also like fictional stories about gardens, like the adventures of Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden or of course the clandestine meetings of Marius and Cosette at La Luxembourg in Les Miserables. Green Grows the City is a thinly-disguised account of the actual gardening (and neighbor) experiences of English gardener Beverly Nichols.

My shelves are also graced with copies of things like 100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names, by Diana Wells, and Gardens: Quotations on the Perennial Pleasures of Soil, Seed and Sun compiled by Holly Hughes, and yes, from the publishers of the New York Times, there's 1000 Gardening Questions and Answers.

Lots of miscellaneous knowledge, all the sort of stuff you can dip into like a wishing well and come up with exactly the piece of information you didn't know you needed to know.

So, when I flipped through Hortus Miscellaneous, I was hopelessly and happily sold. Not only am I fan of all things gardening, but also all things trivial. When friends come over and ask for the garden tour, its a pretty boring and static experience if I just walk them around and point out different plants. A book like this gives me something else with which to engage them.

Without this book, how would I know that I currently share a home with 22 of the 60 different plants mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare(broom, chamomile, columbine, crocus, daisy, daylily, holly, hyacinth, hyssop, mallow, marigold, pansy, peony, pinks, poppy, rose, sage, santolina, thyme, yarrow and violet!)without hours of research that'd take me away from the witch grass?

In these pages you'll find the recipe for a Tonic Tea for Haggard Houseplants, as well as recipes for Mojitos and Mint Juleps, gardener's balm, Fried Green Tomatoes and an uplifting tea to promote feelings of well-being (no surprise St. John's wort is in that ingredient list).

There are delightful lists: all the white plants featured in Vita's famous White Garden at Sissinghurst, Interesting Ways that Plant Collectors have died, edible flowers, 100 blue-flowering plants, self-sowing perennials, Popular Christmas Tree Varieties, Plants "Discovered" by Lewis and Clark, Victorian meanings of flowers, A Gardener's Ipod Playlist (I was happy to see that I chose some which didn't make this list for my playlist...and a little chagrined to discover others I hadn't thought of!) and so many more. (One of my favorite juxtapositions was 10 Herbs to Treat Insomnia and 10 Herbs to Remain Alert.)

You'll also find instructions on how to organize and plant a floral clock (a circular garden which features plants which bloom at particular times of day), how to build a birdhouse, make rosary beads of real roses, how to candy a violet (next year I hope to try this one!) and instructions on methods for removing the most common stains borne of gardening activities.

Did you know that allyssum (along with its cousins from the mustard family, phlox and kale)is highly tolerant of soil with a high salt content, and so you can count on it to thrive in a spot which perhaps suffers from over-spray of winter road treatments?

Perhaps you'd like to know how to keep your houseplants watered while you're on vacation? Or what the requirements are for a proper backyard wildlife habitat. Maybe you suffer mightily from allergies and would like to know which plants fill the air with pollen and which do not. All that and much, much more you'll find presented in this wonderful book of garden lore.

Overall, I found this book a joy to flip through, not only for the contents but for the humor with which such a diverse gathering of information is presented. After all, gardening isn't much fun without a sense of humor.

If you are even a casual gardener, run right out and pick up a copy of this book to have handy for a rainy day. You won't be sorry.

Hortus Miscellaneous: A Gardener's Hodgepodge of Information and Instruction, by Lorene Edwards Forkner and Bruce Forestall. Published by Sasquatch Books, 2007.


somewhere joe said...

I love garden lore almost as much as I love gardens. I'll be looking for some of these titles at the library.

Patrick said...

Thanks for this title, I may have to get it for my sister and brother-in-law. Hell, I may have to read it myself, even if I don't yet have a garden.

If you enjoy reading about gardens, you might enjoy some of May Sarton's journals. Gardening is a key element of her life, a sort of balance to her writing. Some journal titles: Plant Dreaming Deep, The House by the Sea, Recovering.

Greg said...

Joe, it seems to me that gardens tell stories of their gardeners, so stories and lore about them are always fun and a great read! Glad to be encouraging you to visit your local library!

Patrick, it's a great book, but soft-bound, so you'll have to read your copy for Mary and Tony very carefully before passing it on!

I've found many lovely quotes about the garden from May Sarton, so she's on my radar, though I do need to track down her actual writing soon!

The House by the Sea sounds interesting, especially...