30 January 2008

Garden Blogger's Book Club: Dear Friend & Gardener

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.


  1. Jodi, Thanks for joining us again for the Garden Bloggers' Book Club. Great review, I also liked the quote about the arts and gardening. Watch for the virtual post late tomorrow. (Want to give people plenty of time to post their reviews).

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

  2. JOdi I knew you could get your review written before the deadline. You are like my friend that is a milliner. She waits until the last minute to finish a commission. It would make me crazy to do that. I do better if I am not under stress. I do best when unfettered.

    You used one of my favorite passages of the book. I have often thought that if you have some kind of training in the arts or at least a feeling of an art other than gardening you will be most creative in the garden. Art is an extention of ones soul and it is revealed in the art which you choose. One benefits the other.

  3. Lovely review! I will have to keep my eye out for a copy of this. Our library doesn't have it, unfortunately. I've enjoyed all the reviews of this book that I've read to date.

  4. Great review! You made me put another title on my ever so long 'to read' list.

  5. Great review Jodi of a wonderful book. I have one too although mine's in Dutch. I would have preferred to have a copy of the English version as so much gets lost into translation.

    There's only one thing I do not like about the book and that's CL not so kind remark about the late Geoff Hamilton. Geoff is one of my garden hero's, you see.

    I saw Christopher Lloyd in his garden during what turned out to be the last year of his life. He had just returned from hospital where he had had both knees operated upon, poor man.

    I've met and talked with Romke van der Kaa, a well known Dutch gardener who used to be, once upon a time, Christo's headgardener and was a lifelong friend of his.

  6. I am enjoying this book as you did! Nice review. Great picture of snowdrops. Don't you just love that little green chevron on the central portion of the flower? They are so pure!

  7. Thoughful review, Jodi ... heartwarming regarding friendship and love of beauty surrounding us. They all go hand-in-hand ...

  8. Thanks for the great reviews. l will try to see if this book available here. or are you selling this books in some way?

  9. I can understand the reason for being so enamored of snowdrops. After a cold gray winter the first few blooms no matter how few are heartening. Every winter when reading about these very early bloomers it seems a good idea to plant a few next season. Only so far I have not,who knows why. Maybe they do not seem so urgent after a full summer of abundance.

    Letters and conversations about gardening are more intimate when included in the stuff of life. Food,music,work, friends and family...gardening for the gardener is of equal importance AND ordinary everydayness.

    I enjoyed reading your contribution.

  10. Thanks for the review. I had seen mention of it as the current book and while I'm not (yet) participating, your review makes me want to go out and buy this book. It sounds delightful -- thanks for sharing your thoughts and the exerpts.

  11. "Always erudite, sometimes sardonic, and a wealth of knowledge…who will be his heir in the garden-writing world, I don’t know."
    This was my feeling and fear as I read their letters. Are there twenty-somethings who live in the country and garden on estates; or are there those not-so-wealthy people who are making their own gardens in smaller places? And do they write about them?? I wonder if there is a way to find out. I know about Alan Titchmarsh and Sarah Raven, but not any others.

    Great review! I just found you and will be spending more time here.


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