Wednesday, June 01, 2005
Garden Tour in a Book
To learn more about gardening, I'm hungry for good gardening books. I bring home stacks of books from the library, and whenever I visit a bookstore, I browse past the garden section to see what's new. I craze garden books with good writing, detailed directions, and passion. Garden writing, though, can pretty bland. I'm amazed how many books out there offer the same tired advice.

Here'a a brilliant idea: Literature is full of gardens--why not gather those fictional gardens into one collection, and then gleen garden advice and wit from the pen of more talented writers? The Literary Garden: Recreating Literature's Most Beautiful Gardens in Your Own Backyard is just such a book. Basically, it's a gardening book for us English majors. The book culls some of the best garden descriptions from literature, and then uses these descriptions to give advice about basic garden topics. In my mind, the writer who came up with this idea hit on a smart idea. Literature is chock full of fantasy gardens, and it makes sense to draw from the best.

The Literary Garden includes excerpts from Louisa May Alcott, Willa Cather, Charles Dickens, George Elliot, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Katherine Mansfield, and others from an age of classic gardens. Some of the gardens in these books are wild and tempting, others are ordered and secluded behind enclosed walls. If anything, this collection might inspire me to dust off The Mill on the Floss or The House of Mirth for another reading.

After each excerpt, the author of The Literary Garden builds on the selection by offering garden ideas for the reader to try. Admittedly, the garden advice lacks something around the edges. Following the description of the extensive kitchen garden in My Antonia, there is a section about growing pumpkins. The advise on pumpkins is basic and to the point, but it somehow left me unsatisfied. Didn't the discovery of Antonia's garden inspire more than planting a few pumpkin seeds? It inspires me to find seeds for something called ground cherries, to follow garden bugs about their business, to take a nap in a patch of sunshine...something more than just pumpkins.

Squibbles aside, this book is a keeper, if for nothing else than to have a collection of garden excepts from some classic books. Together, the excepts point to what draws me to the gardening world. They all portray gardens as a magical, transformative, otherworldly place. Creating this kind of place in a suburban backyard is another task all together, but at least in this volumn I can point to the source of my desire.

Last time I stopped by Barnes and Noble, there was a stack of Literary Gardens in the Discount Book section. Who knows, maybe you could find yourself tempted to recreate the collection of deadly nightshade from Rappaccini's Daughter's garden.

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