If any flower that here is grown,
Or any herb, may ease your pain,
Take and accompt it as your own,
But recompense the like again;
For some and some is honest play,
And so my wife taught me to say
~ George Gascoigne
Surely, it can come as no surprise that gardens inspire. They inspire writers, poets, photographers, painters, and creatives of all types. There are lessons so universal and timeless that come from both nature itself, and from our adventures and escapades within it. The act of gardening, and of spending time in gardens, often feels like a mirroring. So many of the challenges that we face in our own lives we see reflected in the work of the garden. From pesky pests and the weeding out of the unnecessary, to complementary partnerships and the euphoria of seeing new things bloom and grow.
Today, as we continue this Garden Love adventure, I am sharing some lovely garden treasures of the bookish variety. Being the bookish girl that I am, I have acquired stacks of titles that inspire both visually, and via the pen. The perfect marriage between books and gardens looks a lot like books about gardens! …and poetry about gardens, and reflections about gardens; and of course, the generally instructive faire too.
There were, of course, countless titles and options to choose from, and there are so many more fantastic books that could have made this list. The titles I have shared here with you by no means comprise a comprehensive list. So rather, consider this a pictorial window shopping of titles that captured my fancy, and helped me to fall even more deeply in love with the art of gardening. Perhaps you will encounter some old friends, make some new ones, and hopefully find some that you can cozy up with, out in the garden!
Poetry, Fiction, History & Inspiration:
Garden Poems is a lovely collection of over 100 poems, covering genres like Paradises, Gardens of the Mind, Gardeners, City Gardens, and Gardens of Love. It might be a small little volume, but it packs a lot in, and as with most Everyman’s Library Pocket books, is a pleasure aesthetically; just the right size for toting to a garden bench and soaking up.
The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim isn’t precisely a book about gardens, though the garden in this novel is like a character of its own, bringing the human characters to life, and enveloping them with warmth and peace and life-changing experiences. The Enchanted April is perhaps one of my favourite books of all time. It is an exquisite piece of writing. It is also a film, one that I watch at least yearly because of how much I love this story. A gentle tale of four British women, from four different walks of life, who rent a castle on the Italian Riviera for the month of April one year. Their independent and shared experiences weave a moving story that is centered by the magic of the castle, and the gardens at San Salvatore.
Penelope Lively pulls you in to her tales about gardens, literary and historic, as well as her horticultural memories, in Life in the Garden, a treasure of a book. Lively weaves together a stunning and seamless history of gardening, reflections on gardens and their purpose and inner workings, how they have changed, and how they have changed us. I found her writing style incredibly masterful and engaging. It is a perfect blend of history and observation, and aren’t those two incredible takeaways from the garden in general?
I won’t even pretend that I didn’t fall for the British version of this cover alone, but was delighted to find it just as engaging and fascinating as it looks. I unabashedly admit to ordering the British version straight from England because I loved it so much. The American edition is lovely too, but this British edition was just incredibly striking. And in the case of Life In The Garden, judging a book by its cover paid off quite well.
The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire & The Birth of Obsession by Andrea Wulf is another stunning addition to my own garden history obsession! Wulf is a wonderful writer and engages the reader in what is a rich and fascinating history. The Brother Gardeners is definitely a long read; in fact, one which I am still wading through myself, but well worth the journey. She brings history alive and anyone interested in horticultural history should absolutely dive in feet first!
As a writer who happens to love gardens, The Writer’s Garden by Jackie Bennett was a thrilling find! It is a beautiful coffee table book, but it is also so much more. Bennett highlights 19 writers and their gardens, from the likes of Jane Austen, Agatha Christie, and Beatrix Potter, to Roald Dahl, Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Henry James, and Rudyard Kipling! I was reminded of just how many other writers found inspiration and solace in the garden. How pivotal these spaces are for creativity and art! I was especially intrigued to see Virginia Woolf’s garden after Penelope Lively’s inclusion of it in her book.
Of The Practical Variety:
Naturally this list also needed the inclusion of some more practical books. Martha Stewart’s Gardening 101 has been in my collection for years, and if you’ve ever seen Martha’s gardens and property, then you probably don’t need any prodding to take note of the advice that she has to offer. As with most instruction from Martha Stewart, Gardening 101 offers some very straightforward, tried and tested, methods and guidelines. I would recommend this book for anyone just getting started in gardening, but it is by no means so basic that even a seasoned gardener couldn’t refer back to it for solid gardening wisdom.
The Heirloom Life Gardener by Jere & Emilee Gettle is a chocked full of practical advice on how to grow heirloom vegetables. The Gettles are the co-founders of The Baker Greek Heirloom Seed Company and have been pioneers in the field of organic and non-GMO gardening. Each vegetable highlighted throughout the book not only includes growing tips, and common pests and diseases, but also has seed-saving instructions and information. The book gives a brief history of the family, and from whence their passion for growing food stems, how their seed company got its beginning, and Jere’s travels around the world collecting seeds. There are also two chapters that offer a primer into the “how to” of gardening and advice for the city gardener. This book is a great resource for anyone looking to grow food naturally, organically, and traditionally, as well as preserve heirloom variety seeds in the process.
Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden by Erin Benzakein is a must have if you dream of growing flowers, and have vases full of them gracing the tabletops of your home! If you aren’t already following Erin at Floret Flower on Instagram … well, you need to be! It is a continual inspiration and education in the language of flowers! Cut Flower Garden was the winner of the American Horticultural Society’s 2018 Book Award, and it’s not hard to see why. The photography is stunning and inspiring to be sure, but this book is packed full of very practical advice for growing beautiful flowers. The book is broken down into seasons, and then flowers for each season, with tips for growing, as well as “Vase Life Tricks” for every variety. A wonderfully added touch are simple projects for each season, including bouquet arrangements, wreaths, and garlands. I also really appreciate that each season has a section of “Tasks” for the garden. This brings some very practical tips and techniques that really lay the groundwork for a successful flower garden.
The Garden in Every Sense and Season by Tovah Martin is like a seasonal photographic garden devotional. Also divided by seasons, each section is filled with beautiful reflections, but each of those reflections is a treasure trove of advice and garden know-how. Martin is a prolific garden writer and offers so much of her wisdom in this gorgeous volume. It may not be as “instructional” in its formatting, but it is certainly the kind of book that you will tote along through the seasons to gain inspiration and garden knowledge, in the way you would listening to a seasoned gardener talking shop over a cup of coffee.
Among my more recent additions, are a few books that I wanted to include here even though I am still working through them, or they are on my “to be read” pile because it is already clear to me that they deserve a place on my gardening bookshelves, and I have no doubt they deserve a place on yours too.
In Your Garden by Vita Sackville-West is yet another seasonal journal to be savored all year; it is a collection of essays and reflections taken from the weekly gardening column that Sackville-West wrote for the British newspaper, The Observer, between 1946 and 1961. This volume covers years ’46-50, but also includes two longer essays, and an excerpt from her book Some Flowers. Here we have another prolific writer who also happens to have been a novelist and poet, and is famously known for working with her husband, Harold Nicholson, to create the gardens at Sissinghurst Castle. Her reflections are both personal and edifying. She writes in a lovely conversational style that is very engaging and keeps you intrigued as to what other adventures this month or season will bring, what plants and trees we should be paying attention to, and even presents the gardening conundrums of various readers, offering practical solutions mixed with wit and cleverness, but never in what feels like a mocking tone, but rather possessing that quintessential “thinking out loud” element that I have come to love and admire of British authors.
In Your Garden is no longer in print, so my copy is a used one that I found online, which as luck would have it, came like-new and in pristine condition. If you’re looking to snag a copy, it might require some used bookstore hunting and perhaps an online bookseller. The copies that I have seen on Amazon and AbeBooks recently (as of May 2020) are significantly more than what I paid for my copy, but it is considered a classic in this genre and might be worth it for the collector.
If you joined me for the first installment of this Garden Love series, where I share my favourite garden films and television shows, then you know that Monty Don ranks pretty high in my esteem where gardening is concerned. I recently picked up a copy of his The Complete Gardener, and have begun to dive into what is not just an instructional book, but truly a blueprint for the garden as an extension of the home and life. This is one of those books that you will return to seasonally for years on end, to glean more and more knowledge and wisdom from its pages.
The last book on this list is Elizabeth and Her German Garden. Another Elizabeth von Arnim classic, I had to get my hands on a copy after finishing The Enchanted April. This is one title that I haven’t even had time to sit with at all, but since Penelope Lively spends some time on it in Life in the Garden, I was even more intrigued to add it to my list. Elizabeth and Her German Garden was actually von Arnim’s first novel, and is presented as a diary over the course of a year. It begins with Elizabeth in her garden in May, so that feels somewhat serendipitous, no? Perhaps it will make a good read to round out this month!
I began here with a snippet of George Gascoigne’s poem, Inscription in a Garden, because I love the notion that gardens grow freely for us to take what we need, but we are also encouraged to replant that seed, to return to the garden what it has given. In so many ways, writers and artists do that through their words and their art. The inspiration and wisdom that is gleaned from the garden returns in the form of stories, poems, photographs, and paintings. It is reborn in the sharing of seeds of thought, and the knowledge of what helps the garden grow, passed from one generation to the next. A garden that grows between the pages of a book is sure to live on, but it is also one of the surest ways for a new crop of would-be gardeners to be inspired to rush out of doors, and to nurture the next great gardens.
I do hope that you have enjoyed these offerings, and who knows what rabbit trails of your own they will send you down, what wonderful gardens will grow from the work of your hands? I hope that you have been inspired to pull out your own favourite garden books and peruse their pages. I’d love to hear what some of them are, too, as there is no such thing as too many books in this house, and I’m always eager to hear what inspires others.
Join me for the next installment of Garden Love, where I will be sharing some fun books and resources for children in the garden.
Warmly, and Happy Reading!