… Being What I Think Are Some Good New and Old Books, in no particular order…
(Be patient; like a garden the list grows slowly)
Down the Garden Path by Beverly Nichols, with Decorations by Rex Whistler (ISBN 978-0-88192-710-8). This little book was first published in 1932. The copy I have is a facsimile of that edition, issued in 2005 by Timber Press of Portland, Oregon. I mention this because the 75 year-old font and illustrations are part of the charm of Nichols’ garden writing. Beverly Nichols was a jazz-era gentleman, blessed with a well-padded bank book, a career as a writer, a social circle in the stratosphere, tons of charm, and apparently boundless enthusiasm for his garden. Down the Garden Path is a wander through the garden project of what he calls his “cottage” property. Clearly, Nichols does not imagine the word cottage to mean what it does to most of us. Thatch Cottage comes with a servant (not an especially good one, but the point stands) and is capable of receiving personages of note from British society. It is surrounded by orchards, gardens, fields and woods, all planted with a thrilling lack of restraint. Here is a drawing of the grounds:
He calls this his “humble garden.” Keeping the hedges alone would put me in traction. But you do not read this book for garden advice (though there are some good plant lists inside). Do not imagine Nichols expects you to actually hold your own trowel. You read it for the pleasure of following a blathering enthusiast as he walks straightly into the garden with no experience or restraint, and for the parade of characters that come with him. In some ways, his attack on the property is a gardener’s dream. In others it is predictable disaster looming. Nichols shares happily and without embarrassment. The results of his errors and the curve of his learning are, of course, the substance of the book. I read it years ago in a borrowed copy. It deserves this reprint in its original format. There were several additional garden books by Beverly Nichols, among them, A Thatched Roof (1933) and A Village in the Valley (1934).
The Garden Design Primer, by Barbara Ashmun, 1993, Lyons and Burford, Publishers, NY, NY, (ISBN 1-55821-388-0). I thought I had a pretty good idea of the principles of design. I have had some decent gardens, too. One of them mixed edibles and ornamentals in a useful and beautiful combined border. I liked it a lot with its garden bench seat looking out on marigolds and blooming eggplants, lettuces next to tulips, birdhouse gourds tangling into the trellising limbs of an old apple tree. I knew the basic dictum of borders: tall in back, short in front, medium in the middle. I knew about color wheels, complements, and analagous schemes. But on reading this book, I found entire wheelbarrows full of aspects I have never considered. These pages are full of suggestions, principles of balance, approaches to seasonal changes, methods of progressing through a garden plan, and means of assessing your desires in front of your capabilities. Not a picture book nor a handbook to garden care, it’s an approach to planning. It is as completely practical as Beverly Nichols (above) is not. Suddenly I am looking at gardens and individual plants with a new eye, even now as I write, in January. As a bonus, Ashmun includes lots of quotes from garden makers we know and treasure: Vita Sackville-West, Christopher Lloyd, Karel Capek, and others. If you are contemplating a garden re-design, or even a course of slow modifications, this is the book to have in the cushions of your armchair. I am almost prepared to forgive her for her neglect of edibles in the landscape.