Elizabeth and Her German Garden


It was a beautiful Sunday in the Grove, so I was actually able to sit outside on my lovely reading porch and finish this book. It seemed right to read it outside on a warm afternoon. It seemed right to read it on a porch that was almost as old as the book itself. It was a very pleasant read, full of love for her garden and full of wry humor that revealed a writer of intelligence and independence.

Elizabeth and her German Garden, by Elizabeth Von Arnim, was written in 1898 and was a popular novel in its day. It’s suddenly become quite popular again, thanks to Downton Abbey! The novel reads more like a journal, one that reveals Elizabeth’s new passion for gardening, recounts conversations with her husband (the “man of wrath”), and describes interactions with her friends and neighbors. There’s not much plot, but that doesn’t seem to matter because you simply follow along with her life over the seasons, and it’s delightful.

Humility, and the most patient perseverance, seem almost as necessary in gardening as rain and sunshine, and every failure must be used as a stepping-stone to something better.

Von Arnim has been referred to as a “forgotten feminist.”  As you read this quiet novel, and catch glimpses of the patriarchical culture of that time, you begin to appreciate her strength and independence.  Her writing is timeless and her sentiments still relevant today.

Give me a garden full of strong, healthy creatures, able to stand roughness and cold without dismally giving in and dying. I never could see that delicacy of constitution is pretty, either in plants or women.

As I read it, I kept wondering if my grandmother had read it, perhaps as a young mother in the early 1900s. I thought of my grandmother a lot throughout the book. She, too, was a writer, loved flowers and gardening, and was very strong in her own quiet, gentle way. I am sure she would have enjoyed both the beauty of Von Arnim’s writing and her humor.

My favorite part of the book was the ending, so beautifully expressing my own feeling about gardening:

I do sincerely trust that the benediction that is always awaiting me in my garden may by degrees be more deserved, and that I may grow in grace, and patience, and cheerfulness, just like the happy flowers I so much love.

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