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There are many rooms and seasons in Osler’s (A Gentle Plea for Chaos, 1998) garden: alternatives proliferate in the measure of its days, uncertainties mingle with felicities, there is restoration and ferment, there may even be potential for a decaying piano amid the willows and tall grasses. Osler is a contrarian, but not merely for the sake of being one. It’s more that there is too much potential for her to be stultified by the anointed arbiters of garden taste. She says, “Thank goodness for deviancy . . . and for a sense of fun,” for that is how a garden becomes a creation of one’s own, a sanctuary, an incitement to the senses. There is not so much particular advice in these pages as sound notions for toilers in the soil. “Novice gardeners should allow themselves from the outset the freedom to be as wayward as they want and to follow their instincts.” She can speak sensibly, in the same breath, of unity and balance in the garden, and of rusted objects and mirrors that she has deployed in an effort to achieve those qualities. And she delights in how both the expected and the unexpected can be milked for pleasure in the garden: urns and vegetables, trees (“neglect these at your peril”) and walls (“no garden should be without a wall”), water and benches and follies all have something to contribute. “What I want,” she writes, “is adventure, innovation, foolishness and discovery,” and that extends to bereaved gardeners who suddenly find themselves “left with a legacy that too often loads you down with guilt”: don’t tread water, make the garden your own. Osler never met a garden bully she didn’t instantly dislike. To watch her thumb her nose at the bullies with such flair, and with such gratifying results, is an inspiration.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1999
ISBN: 1-55970-454-3
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Arcade
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1999