Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas Presents

For Christmas, my wonderful parents gave me a whole stack of great gardening books this year, four in all. My mom has an amazing ability to keep track of books I have at one point expressed an interest in and sooner or later I always find them under the Christmas tree or arriving in a package for my birthday, often alongside some other similar book or another work by the same author which she thought might interest me as well. This year's treasures are the following:

Our Life in Gardens by Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd (Here on Amazon)

Our Life in Gardens

This book, first published in 2009, is a beautiful account of over 30 years the authors spent living and gardening together, first in the Boston area and then at their famous garden in southern Vermont called North Hill. As such, it is not only full of practical observations and advice regarding a plethora of beautiful and rare plants but also constitutes a touching portrayal of a relationship and the making of  garden which is as much a home as the house to which it is attached. There are certainly things in this book that I disagree with, mostly with regard to the cultivation of some plants or particular remarks about garden design. This used to bother me in a gardening book but I have now come to understand that it only helps me to define, refine, and explain my own opinions. Now such minor points of contention in no way detract from the pleasure I derive from reading such a marvelous book. Sadly, Wayne Winterrowd passed away earlier this year, so this will have been the last book by him. Luckily, however, there are earlier ones, two of which were also among my Christmas gifts.

A Year at North Hill: Fours Seasons in a Vermont Garden by Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd (Here on Amazon)

A Year at North Hill: Four Seasons in a Vermont Garden

This book, published in 1995, is similar to Our Life in Gardens in that it was co-written by Eck and Winterrowd and presents a very personal account of their Vermont garden, its plants, and its seasonal labors, but it also has beautiful photographs and, as the title suggests, it is organized by seasons. This makes it perhaps a bit more useful as a garden advice book, though its prose is just a beautiful as that of Our Life in Gardens.

Annuals and Tender Plants for North American Gardens by Wayne Winterrowd (Here on Amazon )

Annuals and Tender Plants for North American Gardens

Published in 2004, this heavy tome is much more of a reference work, though it, too, offers Winterrowd's elegant - almost lyrical - and subtly entertaining writing style. The book lists, describes, and discusses a staggering number of annuals and plants that maybe grown as such and comments on the advantages and vicissitudes of their cultivation with an honesty that is brutal but refreshing. For sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus), for example, Winterrowd does not simply repeat instructions originally intended for the coastal climates of of Western Europe like so many other books do but he frankly admits that climatic conditions across North America make the plant challenging, if not impossible, to grow and a short-season pleasure at best. Which is not to say that the book is negative tone, for many plants are recommended enthusiastically and one is almost sure to come across a number of interesting plants one has never thought of growing before.

The Curious Gardener: A Year in the Garden by Anna Pavord (Here on Amazon)

The Curious Gardener: A Year in the Garden

This book, published this year, is a collection of essays by Anna Pavord published as part of her gardening column for The Independent. Wonderfully witty, it is fun to read and also contains much sounds advice, though once again I find myself disagreeing strongly in a few select cases, such as Pavord's instructions on how best to grow basil or how to prune a Hydrangea paniculata. Admittedly, however, in this case those differences of opinion are likely due mainly to the difference in climate between Pavord's England and the American Midwest and Northeast. The book also has a certain good-natured bluntness which  I enjoy, my favorite line so far being, "Growing calcifuge shrubs such as azaleas or rhododendrons in soil that does suit them is not an experiment. It is murder." I wish the landscaping firms here in southeastern Michigan took this statement to heart instead of annually torturing to death rhododendrons by the hundreds, stubbornly unaccepting of the fact that these plants, grown in the acidic soils and mild, wet climate of parts of the Southeast or the Pacific Northwest, will never flourish here like they do on the East Coast or in blessed parts of Western Europe.


  1. Great gifts! I am sure you will enjoy.
    Merry Christmas and very happy New year!

  2. Gardening books for Christmas are the best gift. I have the second book (North Hill) and I read their last one from the library. Did you know that Wayne died of a heart attack a few months ago? I was so saddened to hear that.

  3. Arati - Thanks, I will... :)

    fer - Thanks and happy New Year!

    Phillip - I had indeed read that he had passed away and was quite saddened by the news. In a way, though, it made me all the more glad that I am at least finally getting around to reading his books.

  4. Nice selection of gardening books presents you have there :)

    I didn't receive a single gardening book this time, but lots of gardening dvd's!

  5. Indeed what wonderful parents you have to first remember and then give you gifts like that. Thanks for the book reports - especially the last one by Anna Pavord appeals to me. Guess I better drop some hints. Happy New Year to you!

  6. i love that quote by anna pavord! haha! i would probably like to read that. i got several of elizabeth lawrence's books for christmas which i had wanted for some time. january is such a good time for a good gardening book!


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