A painter’s meditation on his garden that mixes a bit too much lyricism with some original observations and knowledge of plants.
For most of us, coaxing a garden to grow is a humbling experience, but it apparently has the opposite effect on writers. Dash, a well-regarded painter and the author of a gardening column for the East Hampton [N.Y.] Star, presents his idiosyncratic opinions as philosophical or aesthetic profundities and indulges in turns of phrase that aim at haiku but generally achieve only oddity. His contemptuous dismissals of popular plants seem deliberately eccentric: the characterization of forsythia as “an absolute ass of a color, a greeny-yaller braying insult” sounds disingenuous, especially when he adds that “it is so nice” when the withered flowers drop from the bush and coat the ground. He also prides himself on his impatience with time-honored rules of thumb for weather prediction, assuming a tough, no-nonsense tone that imitates classic garden writer Eleanor Perényi. When Dash discusses garden design, however, he is clearly in his element, evoking colors, textures, and forms with the same precision and brilliance that characterize his paintings. Moreover, he is as attentive to practical function as he is to form; the essays on garden paths and benches exhibit common sense as well as keen powers of observation. He is at his best dealing with the least glamorous elements of the garden, providing unsentimental and eloquent accounts of the chores of pruning, manuring, and transplanting. An essay titled “Our Climate” argues by example that plant choice, placement, and planting methods should be determined by the demands of the particular locale, rather than by abstract principles. A long piece on the depredations of Hurricane Gloria, mourning the plants destroyed by the storm but affirming the garden’s eventual renewal, is garden-writing at its finest.
Despite too much mannered, precious prose, this is a collection offering plenty of small pleasures.