13 Dec 2012

Garden Pages: My Favourite Botanical Reads of 2012

An auspicious grouping of numbers based on the calendar year, and the start of what is essentially my winter vacation! It seems hard to believe that another season of employment is behind me, yet at the same time, the muscles and joints are ‘sighing’ in relief. [There is nothing quite like the workout one experiences when dealing with fresh cut holiday trees at this time of year!]


And thus there is a gentle shift towards a more leisurely pace with walks between favourite bookseller, library and cataract trail ways. Reading remains my number two favourite activity and living in a town that has one of the best indie booksellers ensures that I am never without an enticing new read, botanical or otherwise! I was in visiting with the ladies of Roxanne’s Reflections Book and Card Shop only this morning, and suggested a list in a future newsletter of their three favourite books of 2012. In making this request, it quickly became evident that I too should be an active participant. An easy enough challenge, right? I would simply have to turn to my ‘Booklover’s Journal’ pages in order to refresh my somewhat lagging memory. Yet when I turned there, alas, the pages were bare! Truly a brilliant concept for avid bibliophiles like myself, with only one small requirement: the logging of actual titles! So now I sit cross legged on the floor, alternating between two bookshelves: fiction and gardening respectively.

DSC_0033 Its far easier to spot the new [2012] additions amongst the garden library shelves. All of my books are of either a ‘trade’ sized or hardcover format. Of course this also accounts for the bowing of the middle shelf. I have surreptitiously hinted to family that by book collection tends to grow exponentially during the winter months, and if anyone is looking for a gift idea….

 I find myself hard-pressed to follow specific direction when dealing with my two favourite subjects – how do you choose your top three? For the sake of this post, I have decided to create two lists – this one focusing on my top three gardening selections for 2012 – and another to share with my friends at my local bookseller.

DSC_0016 Having spent an enjoyable gardening season visiting and photographing what I consider to be some of Centre Wellington’s most beautiful gardens, not to mention discovering the fascinating stories behind each of their creations from a delightful group of new and already acquainted gardening friends, it became readily evident to me that I enjoy garden themed books that read like a leisurely yet educating walk through an unfamiliar garden setting.

DSC_0036 There are those amongst my followers who will chortle at this cover: ‘How could it not be amongst his favourite reads with that sublime cover shot of Meconopsis?’ they would ask! I would be hard pressed to argue this point. Francis H. Cabot’s ‘The Greater Perfection’ was undisputedly one of my three most cherished reads of the past twelve months. Truth be told, trying to track down this book was akin to trying to cultivate this rare, ethereal beauty. I stumbled upon it three odd years ago and fervently started my search. That rainforest of an online bookseller whose name I will not mention has copies available starting at….. are you sitting down…. $447 for a used copy, while a mere $1088.30 will net you a ‘new’ copy. I know what you are thinking, and for a glimmering moment I almost lost close to half a pay cheque [not that I haven’t done the same for a select group of rare and unusual plants in the past!] so that it could grace my bookshelves. And then logic seemed to blossom forth, like those beguiling deep silky blue flowers….. [‘You simply need to find out who published it! Check with them to see if it is still available. Perhaps its price reflects the fact that it is no longer in print, in which case you will have to make a difficult decision!] A quick visit to Hortus Press ensured that indeed it is still available – now in its second printing – and for a fraction of the price of you-know-who, I soon had myself an autographed copy! This was one of those rare and unusual occasions when my favourite local bookseller was unable to track it down for me.

Its frontispiece states that:

‘… It [Les Quatre Vents] has been acclaimed as the most aesthetically satisfying and horticulturally exciting landscape experience in North America. This finely wrought set of gardens nestles in rolling farmland between the shore of the St. Lawrence and the margins of the boreal forest….. the work of a consummate plantsman endowed with an artist’s eye, Les Quatre Vents celebrates that purest of human pleasures, the making of a garden.’

For me, it was following the historical journey of the creation of it’s magnificent gardens – its early days as a set of gardens around a house built in 1928 by the author’s parents and shaped by his two architect Uncles between the 30’s and 50’s - that afforded me the greatest of readings pleasures. It was only beginning in 1975 that Les Quatre Vents began to be developed and enlarged in the hands of Frank Cabot. His personalized account of the influences, challenges,  both problematic and pleasurable that went into this feted accomplishment, reveals the fascinating process behind the creation of a world class garden that today has become a mecca for horticultural enthusiasts the world over. Sumptuous colour photographs by five leading garden photographers, as well as those belonging to Cabot’s own private library gorgeously demonstrate the sensitivity with which the garden combines with the natural landscape and offer an open invitation for readers to savor this exquisite garden experience. Rare and unusual botanical bounty – many of which I too cultivate in my postage stamp sized property were but an added, delightful bonus! Most gregariously, highly recommended for the consummate gardener/plantsperson on your list!

The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects On A Century In The Garden’ by Stanley Kunitz was a delightful gem brought to my attention on a recent visit to the home of friends Georg and Karen. It was they who generously accepted the role of ‘personal nursery shoppers’ during a recent visit to Salt Spring Island in British Columbia – home to the bountiful nursery that is Fraser’s Thimble Farms. I am always reminded of the pleasurable rewards that garden friendships offer, and in the case of Georg and Karen, not only is there an avenue to pontificate at great length about favourite plants, there is also a wonderful opportunity to discuss my second most favourite livelihood, that of reading. Karen had recently been gifted a copy of this wonderful book and thought I would enjoy it. So much so did I that a call to our local bookseller resulted in my purchasing a copy for my own library.

Throughout his life [1905-2006] Stanley Kunitz created poetry and created and affected loving stewardship to gardens as well. The contents of this rather slim volume is in essence a distillation of conversations, none previously published, which transpired between 2002-04. Beginning with the garden – ‘that work of the imagination,’ the explorations journey through personal recollections, the creative process, and the harmony of the life cycle. A bouquet of poems and twenty-six colour photographs accompany the various sections. During his lifetime Kunitz was the recipient of nearly every honor bestowed upon an American poet including the Pulitzer and Bollingen Prizes, a National Medal of the Arts from then President Clinton in 1993 and the Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America in 1998.

A delightful rare gem of a book – one that conjoins the artistry of poetry and the creation of the garden – perhaps the most harmonious of bedfellows imaginable!

‘The garden instructs us in a principle of life and death and renewal. In its rhythms, it offers the closest analogue to the concept of resurrection that is available to us.

I feel I experienced a kind of resurrection and I’m absolutely grateful for having emerged and yet I have no delusions. I’ve not been promised anything but a period of survival, that’s all. There is no pledge of survival beyond that.

I was changing stations, that’s it. It was an interesting experiment, but one that I do not want to repeat!’

The third, and by no means does is this list indicative of any form of ranking, belongs to one of my all-time favourite garden authors – the brilliant plantswoman Beth Chatto. I first found myself acquainted with her gregarious, informative writing when I decided to create a shaded garden many odd years ago. Her book, ‘Beth Chatto’s Woodland Garden: Shade Loving Plants for Year-round Interest’  became one of the foundation publications in the creation of my garden inspired library. A delightful read could also be found in ‘Dear Friend and Gardener: Letters On Life and Gardening’ – a delightful correspondence between herself and fellow consummate plantsman Christopher Lloyd. Simply stated, Beth Chatto’s illustrious name is the one most repeated in my gardening library! I hope fervently to one day be able to travel to her legendary gardens and nursery while the opportunity affords itself of having the opportunity to meet this most respected of gardeners!

Beth Chatto’s Garden Notebook’ has long been on my wish list of books, and it was only this past week that I was able to locate it whilst on a shopping trip to neighboring Guelph. Momentarily torn with indecision as to whether it was appropriate to forego picking up the last of the holiday gifts for friends and family and to spoil myself with yet another book for the ever expanding gardening library, the decision was made as soon as I opened the book to a random page and began reading:

‘…At the entrance stood a small boy of about eight or nine years old, hot and bored, gazing inwards and being lectured by his Mother who obviously wanted some peace to look around. I do not usually encourage people into my tunnels. There are notices saying ‘Staff Only’ – but impulsively I said, ‘Would you like to help me with this hose?’ His face lit up as be bounded into this forbidden jungle. We got chatting and after a time he asked, ‘Are you one of the staff?’ ‘No,’ I replied, ‘but someone has to look after these plants.’  ‘Does Mrs. Chatto work here?’ he persisted. I gave in. ‘I am Mrs. Chatto,’ I replied, and was taken aback to see disbelief darken his face. ‘But you write books, don’t you? My Mother said…’ [How could an author be found wearing wet jeans, watering plants like anybody else] I laughed! ‘Yes I have written some books. But this is what I write about – growing plants, making a garden, and meeting people like you!’ ‘But aren’t you famous then?’ he asked, struggling to get his values sorted out. He had been brought to see a ‘personality’ – and could not square his imagination with reality. If I said ‘No’ would it ruin his afternoon, when he might otherwise have gone down to the beach? I thought for awhile , then said, ‘Well, some people tell me that I am famous, but I am still myself, and whether famous or not, we must rescue these plants, so please help me and see the hose doesn’t tangle with the pots!’

It is for writing such as this that I return time and time again to this true, generous, kind hearted gardening doyenne. I consider her to be one of the most instrumental mentors who assisted [by means of her writing] in my exciting journey into the discovery of woodland plants and the creation of Teza’s Hortus Magnificum.

Indeed, there were many other garden themed introductions over the past twelve months, but it is these three books that resonate most deeply within me as the gardening year inevitably comes to a close. What were some of your most favoured garden inspired reads of the past twelve months!  

No comments: