Browning (Around the House and in the Garden, 2002) may be the editor-in-chief of House & Garden, but her half-acre patch north of New York City is anything but precious.
And she’s too gruff and cultured to think of it as a dark secret. Surrounding her home is a typical suburban garden, Browning writes: “squeezed, stuffed, parched . . . full of the hobbling steps we take—and the big mistakes we make—when learning to do something.” Browning might occasionally dream of reproducing “something I clipped from a story about an English garden: a double row of lavender flanking a long, thick bed of crimson peonies,” but there is the question of space and light and temperament. So be it if pachysandra is her answer: “I find plant snobberies to be misguided and useless.” This is neither denial nor hot air, for Browning is just as happy to talk about the condition of her driveway as her flowerbeds. She’s not shy about confessing the hatred she harbors for the neighbors’ Norway maple either. (“I should have known that asking them to cut down the tree was not the right way to begin the conversation.”) Her gardening approach may be haphazard, but it is also full of possibilities for romance; a stirring, complex connection is the garden’s gift to her and the gentleman in her life. The garden is a vexatious sanctuary full of unforced parables and revealing of Browning’s “defiant slavishness” for Helpful Men, the guys who do the heavy lifting at ground level, leaving her to explore the metaphors. Still, she’s willing to delve into more mundane subjects, such as the value of lightweight lawn furniture, before floating upward to invoke “the chance to breathe in the fragrance of lilies glowing in moonlight and wrap your arms around someone you love.”
The author has cut a smart niche for herself in garden writing: unceremonious, except when ceremony is in order.