When I was a beginning gardener 20 years ago, I devoured how-to books. Then I became older and wiser and understood that the most important teacher in the garden is experience, as you begin to your understand your climate and soil, the way various plants behave in the conditions you offer, and the fact that character is destiny even in the backyard.

Read the last Garden Rant at Kirkus all about raising chickens.

So the gardening books that have really meant something to me in the long-term are not those written by people purporting to infallible horticultural expertise. The ones I value most are written by men and women who understand something about life. They recognize the comedy inherent in gardening, as well as the essentially sacred nature of the activity. The best of them are as gently crisp as Austen, as deft with a rollicking picaresque as Fielding, and as harrowing in their depictions of suffering as Dostoyevsky.

Here’s a small sample of the fun offered when a truly stylish writer takes up gardening:

On Gardeners vs. Non-Gardeners

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one man's garden “There is no need for every American to be lured into gardening. It does not suit some people and they should not be cajoled into a world they have no sympathy with. Many people after all, find delight in stealing television sets; others like to make themselves anxious with usury and financial speculation; still others rejoice in a life of murder. None of these is very good material for a gardener.”—Henry Mitchell, One Man’s Garden

“I have come to understand the distance between naturalists, who gaze benignly on all of nature’s operations, and the experienced gardener, who perforce has developed a somewhat less sentimental view. Particularly toward woodchucks. I am not ready to see them banished from the planet altogether—they must have some ecological purpose—but I seriously doubt that news of some form of woodchuck megadeath in this part of the country would put me in an elegiac frame of mind.”—Michael Pollan, Second Nature

On Soil Amendments

“After compost itself, mulches in general are the subject most actively boring to the organic gardener’s friends.”—Eleanor Perenyi, Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden

“Like youth, horse manure goes all too quickly.”—Henry Mitchell, One Man’s Garden 

On Whether Pollinators Enjoy Their Work

“I wouldn’t presume to know the thoughts and feelings of bees, but if I saw a bunch of teenagers sipping nectar, rolling around with their feet up in the air, covered with fragrant pollen, and then racing off to do it again and again, I would assume that they were having a wonderful time and would be probably call the police.”—Cassandra Danz, Mrs. Greenthumbs: How I Turned A Boring Yard into A Glorious Garden and How You Can, Too.

On Reasons to Grow Vegetables

green thoughts “Iceberg lettuce; topless carrots and half-spoiled spinach packed in plastic bags; turnips and cucumbers dipped in wax; overgrown string beans—not to  speak of melons and stone fruit shipped so unripe they would make effective ammunition in a street fight—all these are evidence that Americans, basking in the belief that they are the best-fed people in the world, will put up with almost anything.”—Eleanor Perenyi, Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden

On Bad Equipment

“Peony hoops, metal rings designed to fit around the whole plant to keep the flowers from falling over are worse than useless…after the first rain, the soaked flower heads leaned over the rails like drunks at a race track.”—Cassandra Danz, Mrs. Greenthumbs: How I Turned A Boring Yard into A Glorious Garden and How You Can, Too.

On Trying to Do Too Much 

“The small garden of Washington would almost always be astonishing in its beauty except for the small gardener of Washington.”—Henry Mitchell, One Man’s Garden

Michele Owens, a primary blogger at Garden Rant, is the author of the book Grow the Good Life: Why a Vegetable Garden Will Make You Happy, Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise, published by Rodale in February 2011. Her articles about gardening have appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine, Garden Design and Organic Gardening. She is a former political speechwriter and a joyful vegetable gardener of almost 20 years.