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This delightful collection of garden writings edited by Garmey, a travel, food, and gardening writer, is just what’s hoped for in a sampler: each bite is a likely pleasure, with a couple of duds thrown in to forestall complacency. Garmey has put together 63 pieces, many of them snippets from larger works (there are a few poems—Homer, Marvell, Pope, Schuyler—and newspaper articles), from writers rich in quirk and wit, and with dirt under their fingernails. They discourse here in a nonprescriptive way about the pleasures and foibles of gardening. The names are by and large familiar: Eleanor Perenyi writes about her stream of lunatic, incompetent, and tragic garden helpers, and Maribel Osler serves up a not-so-gentle plea for chaos. Henry Mitchell’s lament on the weather is so dry it’s in danger of spontaneously combusting (“As I write this, on June 29, it’s about time for another summer storm to smash the garden to pieces”). There is Michael Pollan on Marx and Freud in the rose garden, and Allen Lacy cutting rough: “Let me dwell for a moment on one plant I especially detest—the hydrangea.” Less household names are equally engaging, such as Cynthia Kling on gardening as a contentious blood sport, or Julian Meade’s nonconformist salute, “The more I hear of Horticulture, the more I like plain gardening,” for the “slipshod method suits me better.” Even fusty old Gertrude Jekyll and sniffy Vita Sackville-West are bearable since they are given just a little page space. Only Sara Stein’s predictable item on weeds and Lauren Springer’s uninspired ode to autumn and its “frost-tolerant annuals” and “lingering pastel perennials” are true disappointments, but then it’s easy enough to turn the page and move on to the well-turned earth of E.B. White or Jamaica Kincaid. A fun gathering of garden eccentrics and cranks of every radius.

Pub Date: Jan. 15th, 1999
ISBN: 1-56512-181-3
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Algonquin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1998