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The Joys of Winter Reading

Jauneta StoutEach season has its joys to treasure
To lift one’s spirits and bring us pleasure.

— Anon

In seasons of the year and seasons of life, gardening books bring joy. Books can be informative, inspirational, and entertaining even in winter. Especially books about gardens. English gardens and their writers are timeless. We may never travel to see their splendor in reality, but what fun we can gain through books. Skeptics may argue that the English climate is so different from ours that the gardens are mere fiction for us. But we can enjoy the borders, the topiary, and the dells in the mind’s eye after reading about them. The English got a head start on gardening; however, we had plantsmen who shipped specimens to Europe for their pleasure.

If the object is to learn, there is much to learn from old books. Allen Lacy’s The American Gardener, A Sampler has been on my shelf for 20 years, however I can still find new pleasure in reading excerpts written by well-known writers of yesteryear. One selection by Catharine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe entitled “Gardening and the Education of Women” appeared in The American Woman’s Home, 1869 — there are examples of wisdom to be found in books of any age.

Other writers are equally enthralling. Read Celia Thaxter’s book, An Island Garden, for information and entertainment. She carried her seedlings in flats from her home in Maine to the island of Appledore in the 1890s. And I thought I had trouble with seedlings!

You can enjoy many gardening books just for the pictures. Tasha Tudor’s Garden by Tovah Martin, with photographs by Richard W. Brown, is wonderful. Tudor was a writer and illustrator of children’s books, but gardening was also her love and inspiration. Some years ago I was captivated by a flower pictured in this book. From the appendix, I learned what it was and where she bought her seeds — England. Not to be daunted, I got that nursery’s catalog and ordered seeds. I grew a few plants and was able to transplant three. I never got a bloom from any of them. So much for experimenting; but what fun there was in trying!

A few years ago, I came by a copy of P. Allen Smith’s book, Bringing the Garden Indoors. The photographs were by Jane Colclasure and Kelly Quinn. A picture of a watermelon that has been scooped out and filled with zinnias is delightful. Lone apples filled with marigolds — charming. This book can be read year after year, always finding inspiration.

Elvin McDonald’s book, The 400 Best Garden Plants, is excellent for reference. When I come across a plant name that I am not familiar with, it is easy to check it out in this encyclopedia. The illustrations and descriptions are helpful.

Then there are the gardening catalogs filling my mailbox. But that is a different story ...

flowers
This winter decoration was inspired by P. Allen Smith’s book