The seed and nursery catalogs have been arriving in our snow-covered mailbox, which makes me think that I should call your attention to some books on gardening. Not just some books…inspiring books, helpful books…even hilarious books—collectible and delectable and guaranteed to take your mind off WINTER. Because if you love gardening, and you live in the North, all you can do right now is read about gardening and make plans for it, or maybe start some seeds on your window sill.
One of my favorite writers is Beverley Nichols, who instructs and entertains like no one else when it comes to gardening. Whether living in a sprawling country place or a tiny little plot of land on the edge of London, he was a master at taking a desolate piece of ground and turning it into a veritable paradise, tutoring us along the way and sharing each step of his horticultural adventures and misadventures throughout the seasons. His frequent digressions as he introduces us to his wacky neighbors, his cats, and his latest decorating schemes are just as delightful as his planting and landscaping recommendations. Who can resist his wise and crotchety old gardener, Oldfield, at Merry Hall, or his ever present and sensible butler Gaskin (always referred to as his “factotum”)?
I sometimes thought I was crazy, until I read about some of Beverley’s gardening antics. For instance, the time he hauled carload after carload of rich soil home to his garden which he dug from a distant hill (contained in a sheet in the back of his car); or the time he impulsively purchased a huge marble balustrade at a house reclamation site – with absolutely no idea of how he was going to get it home and no idea how he was going to break the news to Gaskin who was keeping a keen eye on the budget—and of course, chaos ensues.
Begin with Merry Hall (Jonathan Cape, 1951), as I did a number of years ago, and you will be hooked. You will have to move on to Laughter on the Stairs (1953) and Sunlight on the Lawn (1956). Each of these has also been beautifully reprinted recently by Timber Press, complete with the charming original illustrations by William McClaren. Other favorites of mine are A Thatched Roof and Green Grows the City. But don’t stop there–Nichols wrote over thirty books, many of them on gardening, and all are enjoyable reading.
I came across Your City Garden (D. Appleton & Co., 1937) by Margaret McKenny and E.L.D. Seymour a few months ago.
Illustrated with photographs, it’s an inspiring book for urban dwellers who long for a patch of green, with beautiful and practical suggestions for creating city gardens on roofs, balconies, courtyards or in any small outdoor corner.
Another charming old book on gardening is Gardening By Myself, by Anna B. Warner. Our copy was published in 1925 by The Constitution Island Association, West Point, NY. It was originally written in 1872.
There are twelve chapters, one for each month, filled with useful directions and suggestions for the person who does all their gardening without help, and is illustrated with page decorations and photographs.
What gardener could resist a title like The Old Dirt Dobber’s Garden Book? Published by Robert M. McBride in 1945 and illustrated with photographs, it’s a comprehensive guide for the gardener of every interest and locality. It has chapters covering trees & shrubs, lawns, annuals, perennials, vines and bulbs, as well as vegetables with practical information on the culture of 52 home garden favorites.
And finally, if you just want to throw down the spade and have a good laugh, try Weeds are More Fun by Priscilla Hovey (Hale, Cushman & Flint 1941). It’s a witty send-up of everything to do with gardeners and gardening. Ever hear of the Great American Garden Movement (gag’m for short)? You’ll hear all about it from Ms. Hovey.
For more books filled with gardening fun and inspiration, visit our on-line book store at www.oldscrolls.com and use search keyword: gardening
If you have some favorite books on gardening, share information on them here in our comments section.