Los Angelesbased architecture critic and novelist Whiteson (White Snake, 1982) elegantly turns the transformation of his backyard into metaphor and memoir, seamlessly enhanced by his newly acquired gardening lore. Spending time at home to write a novel, which fictionally recreates his meeting with second wife, Aviva, on a Greek Island in the 1970s, Whiteson at first neglects the unkempt garden of the house the couple had bought in the western section of Hollywood in 1987. Ever since working as a young architect in London ``with Englishmen who went on and on about their tea roses and their `mum,' '' he'd ``dismissed garden chatter as supremely silly.'' There was also a darker reason for his dislike: Growing up in Zimbabwe with his Jewish immigrant parents, he had been repelled by his father's obsession with his garden. Unable to love his father as he should, Whiteson had thought his father's garden ``too contrived, too prissy, too fearful of wildness.'' Worse, he felt that it ``unwittingly laid bare his [father's] heartfelt weltschmertz, his sentimental pessimism and tragic sense of life's attrition.'' A Proustian moment at the local hardware store, however, when a strangely familiar scent evokes pleasant memories from the past, prompts Whiteson to buy all the plants that combine to create the fragrance. And of course, he is soon hooked. He now sees his neglected backyard as a ``green novel'' where plants collectively form a ``horticultural narrative.'' But as his ``green novel'' prospers, his ``white garden''—the novel—is dying, and as he records his proper garden response to the novel's failure (by rather drastic means), he weaves in recollections of his African childhood, his two marriages, life in Europe, and insights into what it means to live now in ``crazy-sensible L.A.,'' where ``the only way to cope...is to be rooted in your own defined, defended ground.'' One of those rare books about gardening that encourage rather than intimidate.
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