- Winner of a 2012 American Horticultural Society Book Award
Gardening, more than most outdoor activities, has always attracted a cult of devotedly literate practitioners; people who like to dig, it would appear, also like to write. And many of them write exceedingly well. In this thoughtful, personal, and embracing consideration of garden writing, garden historian Elizabeth Barlow Rogers selects and discusses the best of these writers. She makes her case by picking delightful examples that span two centuries, arranging the writers by what they did and how they saw themselves: nurserymen, foragers, conversationalists, philosophers, humorists, etc. Her discussions and appreciations of these diverse personalities are enhanced and supported by informed appraisals of their talents, obsessions, and idiosyncrasies, and by extensive extracts from their writings. Rogers provides historical background, anecdotal material, and insight into how these garden writers worked. And wherever appropriate, she illustrates her story with images from their books, so you can not only read what they wrote but also see what they were describing. Since gardens are by their very nature ephemeral, these visual clues from the pages of their books, many reproduced in color, are as close as we will come to the originals.
What makes Writing the Garden such a joy to read is that it is not simply a collection of extracts, but real discussions and examinations of the personalities who made their mark on how we design, how we plant, and how we think about what is for many one of life’s lasting pleasures. Starting with “Women in the Garden” (Jane Loudon, Frances Garnet Wolseley, and Gertrude Jekyll) and concluding with “Philosophers in the Garden” (Henry David Thoreau, Michael Pollan, and Allen Lacy), this is a book that encompasses the full sweep of the best garden writing in the English language.
Writing the Garden is co-published by the New York Society Library and the Foundation for Landscape Studies in association with David R. Godine, Publisher.
The seeds for many a new garden library will be harvested from this slim volume — or it will inspire readers to return to well-worn classics.
—New York Times Book Review
Published to accompany an exhibit at the New York Society Library, this anthology offers a delightful introduction to more than 40 classic garden writers. Rogers (Landscape Design: A Cultural and Architectural History), a legendary park preservationist best-known for her work championing the renovation of New York’s Central Park, offers thoughtful selections from 200 years of garden writing. There are nurserymen, novelists, humorists, philosophers, statesmen, and journalists in this eclectic group. Some members of this pantheon, such as Thomas Jefferson and Edith Wharton, will be familiar to all readers. Others, such as Beverley Nichols, may be known only to true gardening cognoscenti. All are masters of this literary genre. Rogers provides an intimate and illuminating introduction to each writer, highlighting the special appeal, idiosyncratic perspectives, and delightful charms of each. She has also included photographs and drawings from their original works. This is an anthology that will pique any garden lover’s interest in further reading.
Rogers is not only a garden writer and landscape preservationist but also a bibliophile. In putting together this artfully produced collection of knowledgeable yet “informal, engaging, and sometimes droll” British and American garden literature, Rogers drew on her own collection and that of the New York Society Library, reveling in the pleasures of rare books. Rogers does share colorful cuttings from the writings of 42 eloquent master gardeners past and present, but her mission is primarily biographical. In a book lushly illustrated with watercolors by Childe Hassam, plates from first editions, and photographs, Rogers vividly, wittily, and incisively profiles such narrating horticulture exemplars as Thomas Jefferson; Gertrude Jekyll, for whom “gardening was horticultural picture making”; William Robinson, who was “sometimes colorfully caustic”; nurseryman Andrew Jackson Downing; Celia Thaxter, a lighthouse-keeper’s daughter and a poet as well as a gardener; the “urbanely quirky, humorously serious” Katherine S. White; and Michael Pollan, who sees the garden as a middle ground, where nature and culture are both enriched. In all, a vital, delectable, and illuminating retrospective of an essential branch of letters.
If paradise is a grand mix of intersecting activity in a naturally aesthetic setting, then it is captured here for the lucky readers of this book.
This is a title with a little bit of everything and should serve not only as a pleasurable reading experience but a valuable resource for anyone interested in gardening history.