Put down those seed catalogs and step away from the graph paper and pencil sketches of next year’s vegetable patch. It’s time to discuss an altogether different type of winter gardening pastime. And the timing is ripe for selecting holiday gifts for friends and family—and yourself!
These are not the typical gardening how-to, build-this, plant-me, design-lesson, travel-guide. To my mind, winter is for reading—and rereading—memoirs, compiled essays, and epistolary exchanges all having to do with my favorite subject: a gardener gardening.
And my favorites always seem to pose the same question:
What are we really talking about when we talk about gardening?
Green Thoughts by Eleanor Perenyi, 1981, Random House
This book is, and always will remain, a sentimental favorite as it was on Ms. Perenyi’s strong opinions, erudite language, and blunt admonishments, that I first honed my horticultural reading chops.
Epitaph for a Peach, Four Seasons on my Family Farm by David Mas Masumoto, 1996, HarperOne
“Frustrated and desperate, I wrote about my peaches and sent the story to the Los Angeles Times.” Thus begins this beautiful story of a man’s Herculean effort to save his family’s Sun Crest peaches.
Derek Jarman’s Garden by Derek Jarman, photos by Howard Sooley, 1996, Overlook Books
There’s a terrible, bleak beauty in the windswept seaside garden of filmmaker Derek Jarman. It’s easy to love a pretty garden and live a comfortable life, but that’s not this book. A varnished black fisherman’s cottage sits on a shingle beach within sight of a looming power plant. The garden emerges from carefully arranged stones, flint, driftwood, and seashells. Dog roses, screaming red Flanders poppies, and resilient sea kale survive the demanding conditions, thriving even as Jarman’s health fades.
The Jewel Garden: A Story of Despair and Redemption by Monty and Sarah Don, 2004, Hodder & Stoughton
Monty Don wasn’t always the horticultural hotshot on the British gardening scene that he is today. He once was a hotshot jewelry designer. But then he lost everything—home, business, and peace of mind. This is the story of a family’s move deep into the English countryside to a 500-year-old Tudor on two scrubby acres of land and the garden they built there. It’s a tale of making peace with the messy past and finding a passion for life in the garden.
French Dirt: the Story of a Garden in the South of France by Richard Goodman, 1991, Algonquin Books
Who wouldn’t want to run away from the rat race to putter in a Mediterranean garden? Well maybe if all you’ve got is a bike, a few hand tools, a bucket for carrying water, and a rented 30 by 40 foot parcel of land, you’re in for more of an education than you anticipated. This book is Goodman’s love story to his garden and it made me fall back in love with the vegetable garden. I’ve never been without a patch of peas, beans, tomatoes, and greens since.
Dear Friend & Gardener: Letters on Life and Gardening, by Beth Chatto & Christopher Lloyd, Frances Lincoln Publishers Ltd
This endearingly fond exchange of letters between two of horticulture’s great heroes is filled with tales of their personal gardens and woven through with thoughts on food, opera, pets, travel, and the night sky. Lovely.
Colette: Flowers and Fruit, edited by Robert Phelps, 1986, Farrar Straus and Giroux
Everyone needs a garden book to dip into at will, trolling its pages for a seasonal snippet or a brief passage to mark the passing days. Kept on the bedside table, such a book is best enjoyed in short sips. My old copy is well marked and underlined: ‘“Rather common but dignified. Self-satisfied, with a fierce brow. And quick to degenerate…In short,” she concluded, “all the qualities of royalty!”’ –Colette recounting her mother’s description of a velvety black pansy.