Category Archives: Garden Reading

Early February in the Garden, 2020

…from The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, by Edith Holden

One of the things I love about living in Oregon is that winters are mild and the “spring” garden really comes to life in January and February! I guess our reward for the very dark and rainy days of November and December are the early bulbs in bloom in early February! Around here, my gardening friends plant their Sweet Peas on President’s Day! That all just fills my heart with gardening joy!

These snapshots from my yard and garden give you an idea of what early February is like in an Oregon town 30 miles west of Portland, up against the Coastal Range, 50 miles from the Pacific Ocean!

 

Looking Forward to 2020

With the year 2020 almost here, it’s time to share some of my plans for my reading year. I do love the planning part of a new year! On January 1st, I’ll be ready to launch right into my new year of reading!

For 2020, I’m going to continue reading books by my favorite authors and track them on my Reading Journeys page. Reading about gardens and gardening is something I love to do, so I’m making My Garden Reading a focus for the year.  I will also continue with my international reading by continuing with my Wanderlust self-challenge.

When Autumn arrives, I will welcome the Readers Imbibing Peril challenge once again. And I look forward to Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-thons (no link). I know I will enjoy my continuing participation in The Classics Club. I have finished over 1/2 of the books on my list of 50 Books in 5 Years — my goal for 2020 is to read at least 10-12 more of the books on that list. And I mustn’t forget about my GOODREADS reading challenge. I keep track of all my books on Goodreads, and this year have read 143 books. It’s been a long time since I read that many books in one year. We’ll see what happens in 2020.

I’m excited about this upcoming reading year. I hope you are enjoying your planning, too!

Happy 2020 reading, my friends!

 

 

How My Garden Grew

 

When my daughter was little, I bought her a little book on gardening because as a young family, we were gardening quite a bit at that time. She loved it and we read it over and over. While going through some boxes this week, I found it! Oh what memories those little books bring back!

How My Garden Grew, by Anne & Harlow Rockwell, is a book for young children.

Here is what the publisher says on the back cover:

Dig the earth, plant the seeds, water the plants, pull the weeds. Watch as sun and rain and bees perform their magic. Then gather radishes and marigolds, sunflowers and big orange pumpkins from your very own garden.

With the simplest words and sparkling pictures, Anne and Harlow Rockwell capture a young child’s joy and pride in growing a garden all by herself.

I looked it up and it is still available as a used book (through Amazon). It would make a lovely little learn-to-garden gift for a young daughter or son, a niece or nephew, or a beloved grandchild.

The Rose Girls

 

The first book of my summer reading was The Rose Girls, by Victoria Connelly. It was a sweet romance with a love of roses and gardening at the heart. It was a perfect book to take to the beach, or just enjoy on the front porch. The story is of three sisters who live in a crumbling old manor house in England. Raising and selling roses has been the family business for generations, but after the death of their very difficult mother, who suffered from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, the three young women are left to deal with the emotional trauma of their upbringing. At the same time, they are faced with insurmountable costs of fixing and maintaining the medieval manor house while trying to keep their rose business afloat. The three sisters redefine their relationship with each other and find the healing power of family.

It’s a sweet story, but my favorite parts of the book were all the references to roses! So here is a linked list of some of the roses that were mentioned. The links will take you to sites with photos and information on each rose.

“All thoughts of finances were forgotten as she gazed at the perfect bud. That was the effect roses had on you — they filled your head with beauty so that there was little room for anything else…”

 

In the Land of Blue Poppies

Reading about gardens and gardening has become an enjoyable focus in my life as the days shorten and I spend less time outdoors in my own garden. While searching through the gardening section of Powell’s bookshop recently, I discovered a fascinating little book, In the Land of the Blue Poppies: The Collected Plant-Hunting Writings of Frank Kingdon Ward. I brought it home and was immediately captured by the story of this passionate naturalist/explorer and his plant hunting expeditions in the Himalaya.

Frank Kingdon Ward was one of the great plant hunters of the early  20th century, and he was also a great explorer and adventurer…

“.  .  . travel had bitten too deeply into my soul, and I soon began to feel restless again, so that when after four months of civilised life something better turned up, I accepted with alacrity.  This was none other than the chance of plant-collecting on the Tibetan border of Yunnan, and though I had extremely vague ideas about the country, and the method of procedure, I had mentally decided to undertake the mission before I had finished reading the letter in which the offer was set forth.”

He was the son of a botanist and trained as a botanist himself. When plant hunting became his career, he searched for the beautiful and unusual, and brought back from his travels many plants new to England that have become very familiar in gardens throughout the world today. This quote gives us a glimpse into his patient, methodical, dedicated working life as a plant hunter:

I wished to try and collect seeds of the dwarf Iris which I had failed to get at Modung. I soon satisfied myself that all the Iris capsules were empty. Nevertheless, I believed that with patience I might find the seeds scattered in the earth close to the plants, wherever they grew thickly. And so it proved. On bare dusty slopes facing south I managed to pickup a few hundred seeds. It was slow work, but by devoting two hours a day to it, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, lying full length and going through the dust and debris carefully, my efforts were crowned with success. Such is intensive seed collecting!

Although the Blue Poppy (Meconopsis speciosa) had already been discovered by another plant hunter shortly before his own discovery of that unique and beautiful flower, he is forever associated with it. Two other gorgeous and unique flowers he discovered and named were the Rhododendron wardii var. puralbum and a lily (Siroi lilium).

Frank Kingdon Ward was one of the great plant hunters of the time, but he was also a great explorer, sharing much of his experience and knowledge-gained about a remote part of the world by writing many books about his expeditions and his interactions with the people he met. I loved one particular story about his first experience at crossing over a deep gorge on a bamboo rope “zip-line” bridge. His description was thrilling to read, especially because I had read that he was afraid of heights!

“Let go!” and at the word I was whirled into space. Whiz! a rush of air, a catch of the breath, a smell of something burning–the rope gets very hot– the hum of the slider over the twisted strands, a snap-view of the muddy river foaming below, and I was slowing down where the rope sagged at the other end. It was all over in a moment, and pulling myself up the few remaining feet to the platform, I untied and stood up on the opposite bank. After that first experience there was nothing I enjoyed so much as a trip across a rope bridge..

 

This little book was a fascinating look into the life and work of one of the great horticulture explorers. It was a book that revealed one man’s passion for flowers and plants of all kinds, and for a life of discovery and excitement.

To learn more about Frank Kingdon Ward, visit the links below.

Plant Dreaming Deep

 

I first read May Sarton’s journals, Plant Dreaming DeepJournal of a Solitude, and The House by the Sea, 35 years ago, and I remember loving them. In these journals she describes her daily routines, her homes, her gardens, her neighbors and friends, and her inner life as a writer and poet. Both her inner and outer journeys were fascinating to me, and I was very influenced by her thoughts and ideas on solitude, creativity, and on being an artist.

Reading Plant Dreaming Deep the first time as a young stay-at-home mother, I was especially inspired by her stories of gardening at her new home in Nelson, New Hampshire. The winter I read this journal, I spent hours pouring over seed catalogs, planning my own little flower garden. When spring came, I cleared a small patch of slightly sloped ground next to the driveway, put in some good-sized rocks and created a little rock garden. My first flower garden! That was a lovely spring for me! I remember planting cosmos and marigolds, and some tall sunflowers, all from seeds I sent for during the winter. I was very proud of that first garden and called it my “May Sarton Garden.”

My “May Sarton” garden many years ago…

Now, 35 years later, I just reread this book and loved it all over again. Once again, May Sarton has inspired me to plan and plant… and experience the joy of gardening!

Is there a joy except gardening that asks so much and gives so much?

A Celia Thaxter Morning

“In the Garden” (Celia Thaxter in her Garden), by Childe Hassam, 1892

Good morning, friends! I am reading Celia Thaxter’s classic gardening book, An Island Garden, and am loving it, taking notes as I go because there’s so much to learn from her! She was a beautiful writer of both poetry and prose, and her other passion was gardening. I’ll be sharing more about her soon, but for this morning, here’s a passage that I particularly loved from this joyful book:

When in these fresh mornings I go into my garden before any one is awake, I go for the time being into perfect happiness. In this hour divinely fresh and still, the fair face of every flower salutes me with a silent joy that fills me with infinite content; each gives me its color, its grace, its perfume, and enriches me with the consummation of its beauty. All the cares, perplexities, and griefs of existence, all the burdens of life slip from my shoulders and leave me with the heart of a little child that asks nothing beyond its present moment of innocent bliss. These myriad beaming faces turned to mine seem to look at me with blessing eyes. I feel the personality of each flower, and I find myself greeting them as if they were human. “Good-morning, beloved friends! Are all things well with you? And are you tranquil and bright? And are you happy and beautiful?” They stand in their peace and purity and lift themselves to my adoring gaze as if they knew my worship–so calm, so sweet, so delicately radiant, I lose myself in the tranquillity of their happiness.

~ Celia Thaxter (1835–1894), from An Island Garden

Vincent’s Gardens

 

Vincent’s Gardens, by Ralph Skea, is a lovely little book that I read over this very dark and rainy January weekend. I love the art of Vincent Van Gogh! I’m also reading as much as I can about gardens and gardening since we moved into our new home in the Grove. So the combination was perfect, and looking at his beautiful paintings of gardens was simply a delightful way to spend the weekend!

 

One Writer’s Garden

 

A few years ago I read Eudora Welty’s memoir of her life and writing, One Writer’s Beginnings. At the library last week, I noticed a book in the gardening section (where I am spending more and more time!) called One Writer’s Garden, by Susan Haltom and Jane Roy Brown. It was an exciting discovery — a beautiful thick book full of history and photographs of the Welty garden. Eudora Welty’s works are full of flowers and gardens, and it is clear that this family garden was her inspiration. I was captured immediately!

I’m immersed in the book now, fascinated with the history of the family and garden, inspired by the beautiful photographs throughout, enthralled by the stories of Miss Eudora’s life as a writer and gardener, and intrigued by her relationship with her mother and her mother’s garden!

And this morning I came into the room to discover my husband looking through the book. He, too, is fascinated by it. He showed me one photograph that he said solved the question of what kind of fence he would like to put next to the sidewalk of our new home in the Grove. He’s been struggling with the design because, as he said, the fence must compliment the house, not detract from it. We’re inspired now by Miss Eudora! …he to build a fence (how sweet to perhaps be able to call it our “Welty fence!”) and me to be inspired with the flowers I plant along our fence.

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.