An amiable journey through Vanderbilt’s (Golden Days, 1998) gardening year.
The garden is a small patch, a half acre in northern New Jersey, and Vanderbilt came to it slowly: “If the grass was reasonably green and reasonably trim, well, that was pretty much the beginning and end of my thoughts about landscaping.” Gradually, his gardening instincts took hold, and he recounts here his education as a gardener and the evolution of his garden, following the march of seasons. Unassumingly, he offers friendly if wooden advice—the viburnum “needs to be pruned down . . . now is a good time to do it so I don’t crush the fern and hosta around it later”—and a whole bouquet of truisms. “Planning, patience, and persistence [are] the three human ingredients necessary to create a garden,” and the four nonhuman: “Time is as essential in gardening as rain, soil, and sun.” Vanderbilt can be wistful to a fault—“When for a moment we suddenly see and listen and feel, life is enchantment,” he says, and “insects shrill through drowsy summer afternoons. Days dream to dusk”—but then he will offer up something so funny and out of character that he’ll win you back: “The lilies, so prim and proper when I left them, look like a prom queen crawling on her hands and knees out from under the stadium bleachers.” Since he seems such a properly organic gent, it’s pleasantly jarring to read, “so unless you have nothing else to do but be a bartender for your slugs, you quickly learn you must turn to chemical warfare.” Vanderbilt’s freight of literary references could have been halved, but a few are gems, like Robert Frost’s “Late in life I have come on fern, / Now lichens are due to have their turn.”
Lighter-than-air enjoyment: a primer for the more chewy offerings of Henry Mitchell, Eleanor Perenyi, and Miriam Osler.