Whew! I managed to make it under the wire with my thoughts for Garden Blogger's Book Club for Dec-January. Thanks to Carol of May Dreams Gardens for having thought this project up--a perfect way to combine combine a passion for plants, reading and writing.
I was surprised to see that my copy of DFAG, which is the British version published by Frances Lincoln, has now been published for ten years, though I believe I’ve only owned it for about 7 or 8 years now. It lives on a shelf along with other books including Green Thoughts by Eleanor Perenyi (our previous GBBC selection); books that are about gardening, but are not so much “how to garden” as about the pleasures of gardening.
Christopher Lloyd has always been one of my favourite garden writers, with Beth Chatto coming in not far behind. Although I never got to meet ‘Christo’ before his death in January of 2006, I like to think we would have gotten on well. He did not suffer fools, he loved plants of all kinds, wasn’t afraid to push the boundaries—or to speak his mind on things. But he could also be generous and encouraging of others in their gardening adventures, and this is what I hear when I read his books. Always erudite, sometimes sardonic, and a wealth of knowledge…who will be his heir in the garden-writing world, I don’t know.
It’s fun to read a book of letters between old friends. It’s very obvious that Beth and Christo have been friends for many years, and their mutual admiration isn’t just for the benefit of readers. They tease, and show concern for one another, chatting on about challenges with pests, plants, pets and people; they obviously spend whatever time they can together at one another's homes or out touring around. It would have been fun to trail along behind them at a garden show or in a public garden, lurking in the lilacs to hear what they were talking about! Not having that opportunity, this book will have to do.
When I first read Dear Friend & Gardener some years ago, one of the things that most caught my eye was the enthusiasm that the writers have for snowdrops (Galanthus, various species). Around these parts, we tend to see two different offerings: single and double-flowered—unless we find a good speciality bulb supplier. I had no idea of the variety, the covetousness with which gardeners seek out bulbs, nor had I realized the way wild bulbs were rapaciously harvested for sales elsewhere. I assume all copies of this book are indexed; I loved being able to refer to the index to find the exact pages where the correspondents spoke about snowdrops, or euphorbias, or other plants that catch their fancy.
AS the title suggests, this isn’t ‘merely’ a book about gardening. The writers often chat on about music, including concerts they have taken in together, or other topics not necessarily exactly about planting, but still having an effect on such labours. Christo himself observes,
I find it both fun and stimulating to write about life beyond gardening…personally I think we may have a wider approach to garden design if we have been helped to appreciate other form of art; to be aware of basic principles—balance, repetition, harmony and simplicity—which apply to all forms of creativity. To look for these ideas in painting and architecture, or hear them in music, has certainly influenced me as much as knowing whether to put a plant in the shade or in full sun.
I do love the tender way in which Beth and Christo speak of their plants. Here is Beth, talking about her famous Gravel Garden:
In some parts of the Gravel Garden the effect, at this peak of the year, is almost meadow-like. Tanacetum niveum attracts everyone with large mounds of tiny grey leaves completely whitened now with clusters of small, yellow-eyed daisies. It seeds freely, so we met it in some unexpected places…White-flowered love in a mist, Cedric Morris’s rainbow forms of Papaver rhoeas and Ompahlodes linifolia (called the Broderie Anglaise plant by my small daughters many years ago because it looked rather like the lace edging on their cotton petticoats) –all these flowing in drifts, highlighted with self-sown opium poppies, sometimes single, some incredibly double.
There is garden writing, which informs the reader on the passions of gardening, and then there is garden literature, which lifts the soul of the reader while it informs. Dear Friend and Gardener is a happy mixture of both, and one I highly recommend as a book to be kept and read time and again.