Monday, June 15, 2015

My Favorite Gardening Books

Even though the garden book title that best describes me now is this one….

I still read gardening books as if they were novels….

Think a gardening book can't be a page turner to a novice gardener? The one on the left hooked me on gardening when we bought this 1920 farmhouse and 24 acres in 1990…..

We Made A Garden by Margery Fish made me fall in love with gardening. It is the story of her East Lambrook Manor in Somerset. (There is a slightly autocratic husband too.) She wrote:

"You can't make a garden in a hurry, particularly one belonging to an old house.
House and garden must look as if they had grown up together,
and the only way to do this is to live in the house,
get the feel of it,
and then by degrees the idea of the garden will grow."

The book on the right above is The Gardener's Essential Gertrude Jekyll, and those boots on the cover are Miss Jekyll's army boots that she gardened in.

 Even now, no longer much of a gardener, I put aside this book to read one chapter again--"Flowers in the House." I can't resist putting this quote for those of us who love to picture someone's rooms….

"My house has the walls of all rooms plainly lime-whited, giving a white of delicately warm color…the sitting room, whose window curtains are of a madder-dyed cloth, and whose other furniture is mostly covered with stuff of a dull orange color, likes to have the furniture color repeated in its flowers, and is never so happily be-flowered as with double-orange Day-Lily or orange Herring-lillies (Lillium corceum), and with this it often insists on some bowls of purple flowers. This is where they show on the warm-white wall, away from the madder-dyed curtains, in combination with the cool gray-brown of the large oak beams and braces."

Can't you just picture Gertrude Jekyll's sitting room? The introduction to this book is by Elizabeth Lawrence and her book is below because it's time to turn to American gardeners. First though I have to show this beautiful book, an anthology of Vita Sackville-West's writings.

I can't say that this book was much help to me as a gardener. My house is not Sissinghurst. It is a beautiful book, a treat to read and gave me far too much lust for English roses that was impossible to fulfill.

Next is Through the Garden Gate by Elizabeth Lawrence. 

A Georgia girl who lived and gardened in North Carolina, this month by month book is a favorite. She was called the Jane Austen of the gardening world.

I also have her The Little Bulbs, found at Goodwill with the name of the previous owner inscribed. Highly annotated throughout, I imagined how beautiful the owner's garden must have been back in the late 1950s. I collect old Nashville phone books from the 1940s through 1950s and found the owner in one, with her address!

R.H. drove me on a spring pilgrimage to the house one day but too many decades had gone by for the yard to show many remains of the spring bulbs she may have planted. I was disappointed but it did give me the idea for a book I spent some time working on, picturing it as a movie with Minnie Driver starring. Minnie Driver will be far too old to star in it by the time I finish writing the book!

Next book, and I can't even begin to tell you how much I love this book: Onward and Upward in the Garden….

Probably totally irrelevant today but my fascination with Katharine S. White and her husband E. B. White knows no bounds. I think I've always been a little bit in love with her husband. 

Andy--I call him Andy and who's going to stop me? Andy wrote the introduction for the book and edited the articles in it that were originally in The New Yorker magazine. They were actually critiques of garden catalogues, and they are as interesting as best seller novels. 

Mrs. White--I call her Mrs. White--had a different gardening style from that of Gertrude Jekyll, that of no gardening style. Andy wrote:

"Her Army boots were likely to be Ferragamo shoes…
If when she arrived back indoors the Ferragamos were encased in muck,
she kicked them off.
If the tweed suit was a mess, she sent it to the cleaner's."

One thing I can guarantee from reading everything I could about Katharine S. White--
she was a character. And he was a sweetheart and adored her, I think.

She did inspire a love of garden catalogues in me and I still read them. Here is a 1930 one that I treasure…. 

There are other favorite gardening books in my collection. A book by The Old Dirt Dobber. My father used to listen to his radio program…

The Practical Book of Garden Flowers by Richardson Wright. I could read Mr. Wright write about changing a light bulb and be enthralled…

The garden book I've had the longest came with me when I got married. It's an old National Geographic Society book called The World in Your Garden.

I remember lying in bed with a horrible case of tonsillitis in the 10th grade and drawing pictures from it...

And here is the only new garden book I've bought in years,

Tara Dillard's The Garden View

How I wish that R.H. and I had found her book decades ago! 

Tara's blog is on my blogroll  [and HERE]. You're in for a treat when you visit her. Tara is a nationally known garden designer, author, lecturer, garden genius.

Right now she is moving to an early 1900 house, leaving her beautiful gardens intact for the lucky buyer, so you will be in at the beginning of her exciting new plans if you've never visited her blog. Be sure to spend some time clicking on her "Vanishing Threshold" label. It will transform your life!

Here's a quote from Tara:

"I believe in more than a beautiful landscape.

I believe the action steps of creating/

keeping a beautiful garden

are the key to a beautiful life."

And be sure to watch for how Tara Dillard signs every post and almost every comment she leaves wherever she visits. I'm not going to tell you what it is. Go see for yourself.

Added later, And a very happy birthday to our amazing daughter Christy!
This picture was taken in our picnic shelter when Christy and Bryan visited us on Memorial Day last year. They'll be back here soon for July 4th!


  1. Tottering around the garden . . . haha! I do love gardens and flowers, but am not much of a gardener myself. Those look like wonderful books. I can get that way about reading old cookbooks.

  2. Wow you've got me thinking about gardening. Mine consists of a hodgepodged group of containers on the back patio with herbs and a tomato plant. They do look rather happy though - tomato, tarragon, basil, rosemary, chives, cilantro, sage.
    Tom Jones is still alive?

  3. I need to check out Tara's blog! There is actually quite a market for vintage gardening books. I didn't realize it until I was in a rare bookstore in New Orleans. Your collection is very nice!

  4. What a delightful post, about your love of gardening books. Plus many other memories.

    "Tottering"! I love it! Oh isn't it just so aropo, for we 'olden' gals?? -giggggles-


  5. I love all of your books. They are so worn and so loved -- the best sign to know what a person is passionate about. Margery's comment about not rushing a garden, that you must live in the house to get the feel of it is so true. I have always felt that way about houses -- the house will tell you what it wants and needs. All we have to do is listen!

  6. Those are some treasures there! I love old books

  7. I just finished reading a gardening book that consisted of correspondence between two old friends, one on the west coast and one on the east, about their gardens. Delightful! You have some treasures there, Dewena. Now I'm off to look at Tara's blog.

  8. Dewena, oooo look at all these gardening books. I really liked the quote by Margery Fish. It makes a lot of sense too when she said, "you can't make a garden in a hurry, particularly one belonging to an old house." I am loving my rose garden, and we just saw our first ripe tomato in my husband's garden. The quote from your blog friend, Tara, is also delightful.

    Dewena, I'm glad to know someone who loves gardening as much as I do. Have a happy week, my dear.


  9. Tottering...haven't read that word in awhile; love it! what a great collection you have! Favorite phrase of the day is "Old Dirt Dobber" ! : )

  10. oh my.
    what to say? i feel as if i have just spent a gentle afternoon with you... at a favorite spot in valley view... looking through all these wonderful treasures of a book.
    i love the description of the room with subdued light and the freshness of lime washed white wall with orange flowers ... i could just see it. and perhaps little lamps lighted.
    and mrs white... gardening in a tweed suit and ferragamos! and then going in for tea! and how he adored her! oh i love it all!
    i once bought cc guest's book on roses. and truth to tell i love many more flowers better than roses (i know! sacrilege probably but it's true!) ... but i bought her book because it transported me into her world. such a glorious world.
    that's what ALL books do for me.
    and yours have the added blessing of being little time machines in themselves!
    i have loved this post.
    it's you.

  11. I live in an apartment with no garden, but I still gaze longingly at garden books. ou have a wonderful collection. xo Laura

  12. I could spend a very happy afternoon with these and a cup of tea.

  13. OHMYGOSH! are they not the most beautiful couple!!!
    and the lovely shaded shelter. i would be out there all day.
    petting beautiful big brown eyes. LOLOL!

    1. You came back a second time and saw my addition! Thank you, dear Tam. They are a precious couple! She will be visiting her youngest son this weekend in Chicago where he is interning for his MBA. A nice birthday gift for her!

  14. Oh, Dewena,

    To be able to walk through these beautiful gardens via such spellbinding words, gardens which were so well-tended to by this group of talented women, who were so passionate about their flowers and their personal landscapes, it all must have seemed like such a radiant dream of the most hypnotic kind, and one worth repeating!

    The most exciting thing, for me, is that these gorgeous places were not imagined, not fictional, but very real. They were works in progress, that required planning, devotion, patience, and a whole lot of hard, physical labour. But that's what makes them so appealing, so precious, isn't it? Whether these pretty plots of scented stunners were actually realized by hired help, or the green thumbs of their female owners, the end result is that they were all labours of love.

    Although each one of your books is a treasure, I find myself intrigued by Elizabeth Lawrence's works, and I can completely understand why you needed to take that adventurous drive to North Carolina, to satisfy your curiosity, your need to quietly stroll around the grounds that once hosted a collection of the author's favourite flowers, if only to spot a specimen of spring bulbs that once sprouted so many beds of fragrant beauty, and inspired captivated readers to travel long and far to catch even a hint of that magic in the air.

    Happy Birthday to your beautiful and talented daughter! All the very best!

    Love to you,

  15. Ok, do I HAVE to comment after Poppy?? That woman can barely put two words together...I just don't want to upstage her ;).

    Your beautifully preserved vintage books are treasures Dewena. I do believe I've come across one or two in my travels. It seems the only thing that surpasses their beautiful pictures are the words used to describe their subject.

    Speaking of beautiful, your daughter is lovely, and clearly talented as well. You must be very proud.

  16. Dewena, That's a wonderful collection of books. I love books, but I mainly have ones related to AZ. I had not thought of looking for neat ones in the used book store. I did not know that E.B. White's wife was a writer too. I read all his children's books when I was young, and my daughter did too, but when she finished them we found some of his short stories. I remember enjoying one about a sailboat. Have a beautiful weekend. xoxo Su

    Happy birthday to your daughter.

  17. OK, so Doreen just cracked me up, two comments above! You have quite a collection, Dewena and I totally understand your obsession with gardening books. I, too, have always been able to lose myself in a good gardening book, or even a magazine. Thing is, though, I'm not much of a gardener! Your descriptions have me wanting to read each of your books. Wishing your daughter a very happy birthday!

  18. I have enjoyed seeing your wonderful collection. The illustrations are beautiful. I like your comments, too! Hugs, Diane

  19. "You can't make a garden in a hurry, particularly one belonging to an old house.
    House and garden must look as if they had grown up together,
    and the only way to do this is to live in the house,
    get the feel of it,
    and then by degrees the idea of the garden will grow."

    I had to steal that quote for my sidebar, Dewena. I hope you don't mind.

    I want all those books! You made each one sounds so lovely.

    Happy Birthday to you daughter! Tara's Blog is on my next to read :)