There can be great pleasure in reading gardening advice that has little or no practical relevance. That’s why we cherish the British garden writers. From Christopher Lloyd’s tropicals and perennials, to Graham Thomas’ roses, to Anna Pavord’s tulips, these titles remain the backbone of the literary gardening library. The fact that only a tiny area in the Pacific Northwest comes even vaguely close to equaling British conditions matters not a whit. American gardening anglophilia continues unabated.
Read the last Garden Rant at Kirkus on backyard gardens and the environment.
Why? It’s simple—the love of gardening seems so much more a part of the British national psyche than it is here. At least it looks that way to us. From the smallest allotment to the most formidably manicured estate, gardening is a widely beloved pastime as well as a refined art form in the UK.
Pavord has been one of British gardening’s voices for more than 40 years, as gardening correspondent for the Independent and author of such books as Foliage, The Flowering Year, The Tulip, Bulb and The Naming of Names. She remains most famous for The Tulip, which is one of the most thrilling botanical nonfiction titles available to date. Its subject (in part) is flower obsession, which explains its continuing popularity—a good gardener is almost invariably an obsessive gardener.
Pavord reveals more of her floral obsessions as well as some fascinating observations that have nothing to do with gardening in The Curious Gardener (Bloomsbury, 2010), which has 12 chapters, one for each month of the year. Each chapter contains six essays previously published in the Independent, with a list of tasks for that month at the end.
This is vicarious gardening at its most carefree. According to Pavord, in February I should be feeding herbaceous borders, winter-pruning wisteria, mulching between certain perennials and performing a host of other (mostly) unpleasant sounding tasks. That won’t be happening. I’ll be enjoying Pavord’s strictures by the fire, as my February garden rests under its billows of white.
Although the lists of tasks are interesting, the essays are the satisfying meat of the book. Sadly, few newspapers in the United States even bother with garden correspondents now, much less anyone this good. Not since Henry Mitchell’s death anyway. I would love to open my newspaper and read statements like:
“Only fools view their gardens in monetary terms, supposing that any amount spent on hard landscaping must automatically be grappled back into the asking price of their houses. The real point of a garden is to increase the value of our lives.”
“There’s hope in daffodils. That’s a dangerously fragile commodity at the best of times, but now is the season to indulge it.”
As I read these observations, drawn from a garden 4,000 miles away, I am not taking notes or worrying that my results will never fulfill my expectations, no matter how hard I work and how much money I spend. I am recognizing another gardener and affirming—once again—gardening’s importance.
Elizabeth Licata has been working as a professional journalist for over 20 years and is one of four bloggers at Garden Rant now contributing regularly to Kirkus. Her writing on the arts has been published in the Village Voice, the Buffalo News, Art in America, Art & Antiques and many other publications. Her writing on gardening has been published in Horticulture magazine and her blogs, the award-winning Garden Rant and her own blog Gardening While Intoxicated. Licata is the author of the book Garden Walk Buffalo and is the editor-in-chief of Buffalo Spree, Buffalo’s city/regional glossy.