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by Joan Marble

Pub Date: May 8th, 2001
ISBN: 0-06-018574-0
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

A journalist observes the seasons in a garden in Canale, Etruria, and recounts the tribulations and satisfactions of creating it.

Readers who fantasize about getting a sweet little cottage set in romantic countryside, planting a garden there, and becoming part of a traditional community—that is, practically everyone who isn’t actually doing so at the moment—have created an insatiable demand for stories like A Year in Provence and In Tuscany to color their daydreams. Marble’s cheerful garden chronicle sticks to the established formulas of the genre, and revolves around the adventures of a sophisticated but sympathetic couple with some unspecified source of income who go off in search of their spiritual home in some not-yet-fashionable patch of countryside. They build a touchingly modest house with thick stone walls and a tile roof for a reassuringly low price, and adjust awkwardly to the lack of American comforts. The grudgingly productive farmland is gradually coaxed into luxuriant, decorative bloom, and there is the assortment of entertaining eccentrics and local yokels (who use dynamite to dig an orchard and wreak havoc with the water pipes) close by in the background. This particular specimen of the myth offers plenty of incidental pleasures: Marble’s prose is witty and reasonably charming, and she presents some sharp, precise observations on semitropical gardening (including a wonderfully detailed chapter on seed germination). Yet the little town of Canale never quite comes into focus either as a landscape or a society. Portraits of the indigenous population, including Massimo (a bulldozer driver with a mysterious past) and DeDe (a plant wizard with a sleazy husband) have a creepily condescending tone, as though it never occurred to the author that they might tell their stories for themselves, or that the perceptions of the people who have worked the land for generations might be as valid and interesting as a newcomer’s. Now that would be a refreshing variation on the theme.

Pleasant fodder for armchair travelers and gardeners, if not appreciably different from the many other works of its kind. (36 line drawings)