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Holiday Gifts: Gardening Books for Gifting (and Us!)

Robin Schachat

Last fall I took time off and did not prepare a list of suggested garden books for holiday gifting, so this year I have two years’ worth of new publications to work from! Lucky me! And I perceive a major trend. Although there are, as always, essay collections and pretty coffee table tomes, an emphasis has emerged on how we think about our gardens. Are they easy for today’s modern gardeners? Are they ecofriendly? Do they in some way reflect a style that speaks to our evolving perceptions rather than our history?

Let’s begin with a classic type: the beautiful, big book full of magnificent garden photographs. I suggest Winter Gardens by Cedric Pollet. This beauty illustrates how a garden can glow in its least inspired season by careful use of the architecture, profiles, bark, and branches of plants. The major part of the book is devoted to inspirational views of great private and public gardens in the height of their winter glory. But lucky reader! The final hundred pages are given over to the recommended plants and what specifics they can provide to us, as well as basic information on winter gardening. This would be a lovely gift for a friend (or self) designing a new garden.

Second is another classic sort of garden book: a personal history of one gardener’s themes, thoughts, ponderings and memories of and in her own gardens. This time our gardener is Booker Prize winner Penelope Lively, so you know the prose will be transcendent as she reflects on Life in the Garden. I cannot condense my thoughts about this book into a paragraph. I can only say please read it! It will take you out of your world into one of rest, of creativity, of opening new visions. It’s a joyous book for a gardener to cuddle up with on a winter’s day – or anytime.

A short and passionately written entertainment that will appeal to anyone who enjoyed Rick Darke’s program at our October joint meeting is Benjamin Vogt’s A New Garden Ethic. Vogt’s premise is that, through a new way of gardening at home, we can develop a wider sense of appreciation, not only for plants, but for the entire ecosystems that surround us, especially our connections to other humans and the world we so often take for granted. His battle cry? “Be defiantly compassionate!” We could do a lot worse.

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Let’s look back to a 2016 publication that ladies of this club might particularly enjoy, and one that our earlier members’ compassionate defiance and love for nature had a great deal to do with – Preserving the Shaker Parklands, the Story of the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes. It’s not the most perfect nature book out there, but it is one in which we can take pride and find joy. If you know someone who likes local history, this book is one he or she should have.

How about a fun crime drama? Well, crime but with all the best intentions…and fun, definitely. Greg Grant and William C. Welch bring us The Rose Rustlers, an entertaining collection of true stories and tall tales of the twentieth century garden heroes (primarily themselves) – the rustlers who traveled throughout the United States (primarily in the South), gathering cuttings and remnants of historic heirloom roses lost to modern dealers but recalled with joy in the memories and catalogues of prior rosarians. Many of these roses have been re-introduced into the plant trade through the work of these authors, and some have been used in the breeding of new cultivars, also discussed here. Did you ever wonder what the real story of “the yellow rose of Texas” is? Or what you can plant with ‘Veilchenblau’ (the “blue” rose)? Or how ‘Peggy Martin’ got her name? It’s all in here!

Not for everyone (I imagine), and not specific to gardening but rather another work on the relationships between humans and ecology, is Andreas Weber’s fascinating Matter and Desire: An Erotic Ecology. It’s a philosophical exposition of how humans can, perhaps, find a way to submerge ourselves into a way of living within nature and with love for nature and for each other. It’s been widely reviewed, but I have not yet finished it, I admit. If it sounds intriguing to you, the reviewers think you will love it. If not, pass on to the next suggestion.

Since I am myself a garden designer, I always like to recommend a book that gives the readers an opportunity to put themselves into a garden designer’s shoes. This year I suggest Kendall Brown’s Visionary Landscapes, which studies a number of gardens designed by each of five contemporary masters of Japanese style garden forms in North America. The gardens described and beautifully photographed range from large corporate landscapes to a Chicago terrace garden fourteen stories up in the air. It’s a thoughtful, inspirational book. I really liked it.

Finally, we will come back to the new way of thinking about gardens with Garden Revolution – How our Landscapes can be a Source of Environmental Change, by Larry Weaner and Thomas Christopher. It sounds dry, perhaps textbookish, but it is definitely not! This is a cocktail table tome full of delicious photographs that leads gardeners and designers through the steps necessary to create beautiful, enticing home gardens that just happen to be ecologically brilliant and, from the gardener’s point of view, exceptionally successful. It’s a practical and pretty book any gardener would love and learn from. When I tell you the enthusiastic praise on the cover is from Doug Tallamy, those of you who know me will know this is absolutely brilliant! And for those of you who don’t know who Tallamy is, I have four words: read Bringing Nature Home.

So treat yourselves and your friends to some lovely reads this winter, ladies!

Happy Holidays!

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