Our world seems to be changing so fast it makes me dizzy. Technology that was only a cartoon in the 1960s (remember “The Jetsons?”) is a reality today.
FaceTime and Skype are regular parts of our computer-based lives. Climate change is here, and new research on genetics, gardening techniques, soil composition, etc. has transformed our gardening world.
Many of us still take great pleasure from going to a symphony concert and hearing the classical music of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. In the same way, I think of the enjoyment and education, I derive from reading the writings of the great classical gardeners.
Many of these wonderful books are out of print, but I never go into a used bookstore or antique store without looking in the gardening section for books by these famous authors. Powell’s Books in Portland has been the source of several of my favorite finds.
Many great garden authors were English. You may wonder why we in Wenatchee should care about what was written long ago in England. This is an attitude I have encountered more than once and would like to change. Here is what Christopher Lloyd (1921-2006) — known to be the premier gardener of England for his extraordinary garden, Great Dixter, and author of numerous books — wrote in the Introduction to “The Well-Tempered Garden” (1997 edition):
“What has English gardening got to do with American gardening” is a frequently asked question (in an irritated tone). Well, I have visited America a good number of times and thoroughly enjoyed my meetings with your many like-minded people. (We all have an inclination to laugh, which is a great asset.) I can tell you that there is no English style. What we are all set on achieving is a good garden, with whatever means come to hand. We find out which plants we like, will like us, and we grow those, without fussing, if we are sensible, about country of origin.
“The range of climates in the United States varies far more widely than the difference between mine and yours, (whatever yours may be). So let’s hear less about ‘it doesn’t apply to us.’ There’s far more that does apply to good gardening, anywhere in the world, than what does not.
“We should always keep an open mind, always be generous in exchanging ideas and plants, and always remember, with pride, that gardening — the craft of it and the art — is the best recreation on earth.”
I think Mr. Lloyd said it better than I ever could. I feel exceptionally privileged to have seen and heard Mr. Lloyd speak in Seattle, during his last trip to the United States. I will never forget his wry sense of humor, the twinkle in his eye and his glee at being thought an “old curmudgeon!” He was a prolific author and I buy any of his books that I can find.
Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962) is another prolific author of timeless garden books. Her world-famous garden at Sissinghurst is now a National Trust garden in Kent, England. Her garden writing continues to influence gardeners all over the world. If you go to England, this is a garden you should not miss. There are many others, including Great Dixter, that are at the top of my bucket list.
Here are a few of the classic authors and books that have both shaped my garden philosophy and given me hours of pleasure:
• Beverly Nichols, “Down the Garden Path” (1932)
• Beth Chatto, “The Dry Garden” (1972)
• Rosemary Verey, “The Flower Arranger’s Garden” (1989)
• Penelope Hobhouse, “My Garden Journal” (1999)
• Cassandra Danz, “Mrs. Greenthumbs” (1993) and “Mrs. Greenthumbs Plows Ahead” (1998)
Most of these classic authors have written many more books. I have included only the ones in my collection.
If you are lucky enough to find books by Cassandra Danz, snap them up. They are the funniest garden writing I have ever read. Sadly, she died of cancer in 2002 at age 55. You can read a lively and touching tribute to her at gardenrant.com/2009/01/mrs-greenthumbs.html.
I hope you will look for some of these great books, curl up in a cozy armchair and get inspired as you wait for spring.
A WSU Master Gardeners of Chelan County column appears weekly in the At Home section. Gloria Kupferman is one of three columnists featured.