Archive for the ‘Books’ Category
The pile of books on my bedside table got so large and unbalanced, a disaster was imminent. Working from the top down, this is what I found:
The Tale of Raw Head & Bloody Bones by Jack Wolf.
The Eagle and the Raven and House of Dreams, both by Pauline Gedge.
Great Cat Stories by Roxanne Willems Snopek.
Gardens Aflame by Maleea Acker.
Titus Groan and Gormenghast both by Mervyn Peake.
Dexter in the Dark by Jeff Lindsay.
That’s the top layer. Holding them up were the following:
The Lurking Fear and Other Stories by H.P. Lovecraft.
Canadian Garden Words by Bill Casselman.
Henry Mitchell On Gardening.
The Fallacy of Wildlife Conservation by John A. Livingston.
The Cat Lover’s Companion.
Ariel by Sylvia Plath.
Holy Bible : authorized King James version.
Explanation: I started reading the KJV of the Bible a couple of years ago, intending to make a Slow Reading project of it (even wrote a blog post about it). Well, it’s very slow. I’ve had a long-standing interest in H.P. Lovecraft, especially his character Herbert West, whom I adopted and enhanced into a trilogy. Because of the type of person Herbert is, I’m always on the lookout for books with dubious protagonists, hence Raw Head…, which is about a psychotic medical student in the 18th century. Recently I’ve been writing a blog post about evil protagonists, hence Dexter and the Gormenghast books (which I think I’ll re-read, yet again).
Pauline Gedge’s historical novels are detailed and vivid, great for losing oneself in when that’s what one needs to do.
I like cats and two live in the house, so I sometimes read about cats.
I’m a keen gardener and keep Henry Mitchell’s writings on that subject close at hand. This interest has created an awareness of the relationship between human beings and the earth, which is why the books by John Livingston and Maleea Acker are there. I recently heard Acker speak about her book, which is about Garry Oak ecosystems. Since I garden on a despoiled part of such an ecosystem, it seems to be required reading.
I bought Plath’s Ariel after I found myself copying out some of the poems by hand from a copy borrowed from the library.
So I’m not actually reading all these books, but I assembled them for a variety of reasons. Some of them will be returned to the library or their permanent spots on my bookshelves, but I suspect quite a few will stay on the bedside table. I’ll rebuild the pile, making sure that collapse is unlikely.
A couple of months ago I finally bought an ebook reader, having grown weary of disengaging from interesting books at bedtime. I always read in bed for a while last thing at night, but not on a computer. After years of working with my own and others’ manuscripts, I have no problem with text on a computer screen, but I think “laptop” is a misnomer for computers that are still rather heavy and fragile, safer on tabletops than on laps. And it was ironic to have published four ebooks without owning the primary instrument for reading them.
In selecting books for the e-reader, I decided to start with self-published books. Recently there have been recurring and endless debates on the Fiction Writers’ Guild at LinkedIn that always seem to boil down to “Are self-published books more likely to be badly written than traditionally published ones?” I don’t pretend to have any credible statistics, but I recommend the following well-written self-published books, discovered without a lot of effort on my part. Several of them are free, none of them is more than $2.99. $2.99, folks! Less than the price of a good cup of coffee. You have to admit that’s a real bargain for a good read.
Clear Heart by Joe Cottonwood. “A love story for men about nail guns, wet concrete and strong women.” OK, it’s a “guy book,” but it worked for me. In addition to a complicated bunch of love stories, there’s a lot of stuff about the art of building houses that reads like it comes from lived experience.
Northern Liberties by Glenn Vanstrum. A historical novel about the artist Thomas Eakins set in 1870s Philadelphia, it delves into the creation of Eakins’s painting The Gross Clinic. The story combines elements of art, medicine and history, with a murder mystery woven in as well. I liked this book so well I also bought another one by Vanstrum — Let Fall Thy Blade. I’m only about a quarter through reading it, but so far it’s impressive.
Effie Perine by Buzzy Jackson. This is an odd tangent from The Maltese Falcon, featuring Sam Spade’s secretary. By artful timebending it combines the 1920s, 1970s and 1990s, honouring Hammett’s detective and the classic movie while adding unique elements that kept me guessing — and reading.
Three short works by A.M. Kirkby — Rise Above, Sword of Justice and A Ghost Story of the Norfolk Broads. These are beautifully written, understated stories of supernatural and natural horror. I especially recommend Rise Above.
He Needed Killing and He Needed Killing Too — a pair of murder mysteries by Bill Fitts set on a Southern university campus, featuring a retired tech guy turned private investigator. These are leisurely-paced books, related by a first-person narrator with a congenial, relaxed style. Anyone who has ever spent time in academia will find something to relate to here.
Finally, of course, there is my own Herbert West Trilogy (in four volumes), a hefty opus of which I speak often. The first book, The Friendship of Mortals, is free.
All of these books are available on Smashwords, and my reviews of them are also to be found there.
I’ve been reading a thought-provoking book, The Conscientious Gardener : cultivating a garden ethic, by Sarah Hayden Reichard. Every gardener should be aware of the issues Ms. Reichard raises — water use, how we treat our soils, whether to use fertilizer, attitudes toward animals and “pests.” The book is informed by the ideas of Aldo Leopold and proposes a “garden ethic” similar to Leopold’s land ethic.
It includes a chapter on gardening with native plants. I had always assumed that a garden of native plants would be inherently virtuous, pure and green. Native plants would be adapted to the local conditions and so would not require as much care as imported species, so by turning my 50 x 120 foot patch of ground into a miniature Garry oak meadow I would be helping to restore a rare ecosystem. To do that, however, I would have to remove the four rather large non-native trees on the place (an Ailanthus and three Norway maples) and a jumble of other imported species, some introduced by me, others by former occupants and still others that just drifted in. In other words, to make my garden a purely native one I would have to raze the existing plantscape. And even then, there’s still the matter of the house, driveway and surrounding suburbia. Finally, a 50 x 120 foot Garry oak meadow, however commendable, wouldn’t do much to restore the original ecosystem around here, especially as there are indications that the native peoples used fires to maintain it, not possible where there is a permanent burning ban.
Personal preferences and circumstances aside, Reichard suggests that “going native” may not necessarily be the best choice for the conscientious gardener. She points out issues that most gardeners would not be aware of while rushing to stock their gardens with “native plants,” such as a phenomenon called “outbreeding depression,” in which hybridization of different genotypes of a species results in less-fit forms of that species. This means finding out where the plants you intend to purchase come from, something that may not be easy to accomplish. Both wild-collected plants and those cultivated far away and under different conditions than those in your region are not good choices. Rather than creating instant “native plant gardens,” Reichard suggests learning about the native flora of one’s region and getting involved in local efforts to preserve it.
Selecting plants suited to your climate and soil is always the best choice, even if some of them are not “native.” Wetland plants such as red osier dogwood (Cornus stolonifera) or foamflower (Tiarella trifoliata) would be poor choices in my sandy soil, even though they are native to my region. Rugosa roses (Rosa rugosa), many spurges (Euphorbia species) and rose campion (Lychnis coronaria), none of them natives, do well here. Of course there is also the issue of avoiding or at least managing plants with invasive tendencies, especially if you garden near relatively undisturbed native landscapes.
Gardening is inherently unnatural. The gardener always interferes with plants to some extent, if only by managing whatever is growing in a place already, like the native peoples of our region did with the meadows where camas bulbs grew. Gardeners who enter into a true relationship with the land on which they garden, observing and learning about all its inhabitants, necessarily make wiser choices and perhaps do less damage than those with an attitude of dominance. Before we ever stick a spade into the earth (or hire a contractor), we should examine our mental model for a garden and whether it is in harmony with the actual, physical place it is to occupy, or a violation of that place. The conscientious gardener, I think, would seek to befriend the earth rather than subdue it.
In this garden, the unnatural business of leaf management is under way.
The title of this post should be a tip-off that I’m hard up for a topic this week. One reason for this is because I’ve been spending a lot of time lately formatting another of my novels for upload to Smashwords. Volume Two of Islands of the Gulf will be available by the end of this week.
I’ve also been dipping into Merchants of Culture (updated second edition) by John B. Thompson, an analysis of the publishing business in the 21st century. I admit that I skipped right to the final two chapters, in which Mr. Thompson offers his own opinions on a number of issues. Most interesting to me is his statement that many writers write for other writers; that is the group whose opinion matters most to them. To quote: “The community of writers is a world apart; it intersects with the publishing world but that intersection is fraught with tension that stems from the fact that the interests of writers don’t always coincide with the interests of agents and editors.” To publishers, the primary measure of an author’s worth is his or her sales figures, which must be ever-growing in order to sustain the author-publisher relationship. Authors are quoted as saying that they feel trapped by their sales numbers. On the plus side, Thompson says that books, whether print or electronic, will always be with us, because a desire for story seems to be inherent in the human race. He speculates that there will be more small publishers as the major ones break under the strain of trying to sustain unsustainable growth.
Finally, I’ve been rereading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings for maybe the twentieth time. Every year or two I get the urge to take that long journey with Frodo and the others once again. It’s one of my best-loved books, but that has not stopped me from noticing a number of things that I’m sure have been pointed out by critical readers:
1. There are very few “grey” characters in this story. The evil guys are blackly evil and most of the good guys stay pure without a great deal of effort.
2. There is absolutely no sex in this story (which is absolutely OK with me), and very few female characters, one of whom (Shelob the spider) is among the most horrible.
3. The only explanation for the standard of living in the two elf-countries (Rivendell and Lorien) is the magic of the rings (which is OK, especially as that magic passes away after the One Ring is destroyed).
4. No one gives the wretched Gollum any credit for the destruction of the Ring, or talks about the fact that Frodo fails on the very brink of Doom, although he does admit it to Sam immediately after.
5. The Eagles. In the battle before the gates of Mordor, Gandalf calls upon the Eagles to look for Frodo and Sam on Mount Doom. So the big question is: why doesn’t he think of asking an eagle to carry Frodo and the Ring to Mt. Doom right at the start, thus saving a lot of time and a torturous, risky journey? Especially since Gandalf himself is twice rescued by one of the big birds — from the tower of Orthanc when he is made prisoner by Saruman, and from the peak of Zirak-Zigil after his struggle with the Balrog. The first of these rescues takes place before the Council of Elrond. Such a choice would, of course, short circuit the whole story, and I explain it to myself in terms of sacrifice and suffering being necessary to bring about the great transformation, but a fussy critic inside of me feels that Tolkien should have dealt with this angle in some way. For example, someone should make the suggestion during the Council of Elrond so that it could be refuted for a reason that makes sense within the parameters of Tolkien’s world.
But despite these niggles, I will very likely pick up this book once again in a couple of years. Which goes to confirm my long-held opinion that there is no objective, rational standard by which writing is judged.
Onward! I will publish the second volume of my trilogy in four volumes a few days from now!
A book read once only may be considered disposable. A book intentionally read several times, especially with the endless supply of new books available, is a treasure, an alternate home for the reader’s brain. Rereading a book is like going to visit an old friend; you know what to expect and look forward to it.
Books that lend themselves to rereading tend to be on the long side and somewhat complex, with memorable, well-developed characters. The quality of the writing must be good, but does not necessarily have to be great. Above all, there must be something mysterious or unresolved that draws the reader back to the book. It may be only a desire to experience the story all over again, having possibly forgotten how it ends, or at least the steps by which the end is achieved. The combination of remembering just enough but not quite all recharges a book with interest and intrigue.
A sure sign of a good candidate for rereading is that you want to own a copy.
I have to admit that I do a lot of rereading. Combine that with my own writing (including this blog), a full time job and the demands of the garden may explain why I don’t read many new books, with the exception of the works in progress of fellow writers. In my work as a cataloguer I am surrounded by new books, so am generally aware of what’s hot and honoured, but I don’t always rush to read it.
Anyway, here are a few (a very few) of my favourite rereads:
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. I prefer it to War and Peace, incidentally, which I find overly burdened with History. Anna Karenina may in fact be the perfect novel — full of realistic characters and situations that a reader of our time can recognize and identify with. The central character’s story is a tragic one, but it is surrounded by many other stories that save it from becoming cheap melodrama. This is a big, rich, slice of life that I am eager to partake of every few years.
Titus Groan and Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake. These two books are set in a world so weird — grotesque, even — and full of imaginative detail, that the characters almost don’t matter. It’s Gormenghast itself that is the main “character,” but in fact the primary players — Fuchsia, Dr. Prunesquallor, Steerpike, the Countess, Keda and the Professors and others — are also finely drawn and unforgettable. The interesting thing to me is that Titus himself is invisible in the first book (because he is still an infant at its end) and somewhat annoying and irrelevant in the second one. While I find Gormenghast, his home and heritage, totally fascinating, all he can think of is escaping it forever. Once he does — in a third book, Titus Alone — I lose interest. After several false starts, I forced myself to read Titus Alone, but do not plan to read it again, ever.
The Girl in a Swing by Richard Adams. I hesitated a bit before including this one, because it isn’t a “classic,” by any means. But the fact is that I have read it many times, and still do not think I quite understand the narrator’s motivations. All right, he marries a woman whose past he knows nothing about, because he has fallen in love (and lust) with her. The early days of their marriage are a paradise of domestic bliss and scorching sex, and the new wife proves to be a catalyst for success in the narrator’s fine ceramics business. But her past catches up with her; her husband discovers that she has done a terrible deed, and… Well, I’m not sure. That’s why I reread this one, thinking that maybe this time I’ll figure it all out.
The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle. Here I mean a collection of all the original Sherlock Holmes stories. Read in one huge batch, they are wonderfully escapist. There are so many stories, involving so many details impossible to remember from one reading session to the next. A perfect reread, especially when Real Life is in a tiresome phase.
The Lost Oasis by Patrick Roscoe. This may be a kind of lost book, actually, because I’m not sure that it’s still in print. But it’s a perfect example of a story that seems to be moving toward one of a limited number of outcomes, none of which happens. I’m not actually sure what happens at the end. One thing I am sure of, is that the main character is the ultimate unreliable narrator. Imagine being toured around Europe and North Africa by someone that you find less and less trustworthy the more you listen to his stories about his troubled family and his attempts to reconnect with his missing brother and father. The trouble is that by the time you decide to call it quits, you’re in the Western Sahara and you haven’t got a clue.
Finally, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, all by J.R.R. Tolkien. These are among my most reliable rereads. Every couple of years, I pick up one of them, and when I’ve finished it I simply must go on to read the others. Yes, I know there are thousands (maybe zillions) of epic fantasies out there, but this is still one of the best. What gives it depth and richness is that Tolkien’s field was languages, and the stories grew out of that. Read in the order I give here, the tales grow darker. The Hobbit may be a simple story for children, but The Silmarillion, which is in effect the ancient history of Tolkien’s created world, has elements that bring to mind the bloodiest of Northern legends and seem to call for someone like Wagner to turn them into music dramas.
Does one ever tire of rereading specific books? Yes. Old favourites from long ago now languish on my shelves. It seems that once part of the formula breaks down, the intrigue is gone. Once the reader figures out the mystery, or remembers all the details, or (more likely) simply doesn’t care about it any more, the book remains closed forever.
A review of my novel The Friendship of Mortals has appeared on the Great Books Under $5 blog.
The news about flooding in the lower Mississippi and the opening of the Morganza Spillway prompted me to dig out a book I remembered as highly interesting when I read it years ago — The Control of Nature, by John McPhee (1989). The book contains three lengthy essays or prose documentaries about the interaction of humans with natural forces. The first of them, entitled “Atchafalaya,” is particularly apt. It describes how European settlers began to “manage” the Mississippi in the late 18th century, an endless process that continues today under the direction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
In the context of an inspection cruise by members of the Corps, McPhee depicts the primary problem of the Mississippi — it wants to go westward, to yield its substance to the Atchafalaya, a phenomenon called river capture that has been going on for millennia, and which built the Mississippi Delta. Until the 1950s, when it became unacceptable to commerce and transportation, and the Corps of Engineers came forward to stop it by building the Old River Control Structure. McPhee’s article lays out the consequences of this and other efforts at Mississippi management in brisk and agile prose. Reading about what has happened to sediments around New Orleans, I thought about Hurricane Katrina. Reading about the floods of 1973, the only other time the Morganza Spillway was opened, I think about right now. In the late 1980s, McPhee asked several knowledgeable people about the possibility that the control structure might fail despite the immense efforts to strengthen it, and the Atchafalaya would capture the Mississippi after all. It seems that question is still out there and still unanswered.
McPhee doesn’t draw conclusions. He describes what he sees and relays the opinions of the experts without comment. He does not use the word “hubris.” But it certainly popped into my mind as I read.
It’s fascinating to read about human-enhanced disaster on an unusually rainy late May morning, during a spring that has been wetter and cooler than normal. A real flood is not likely here in Victoria B.C., but Manitoba is experiencing something like the Mississippi floods right now, complete with a sacrificial dyke breach.
John McPhee also spent a lot of time talking with geologists on the west coast and wrote about plate tectonics, faults, and related matters (Annals of the Former World, Assembling California). An epic flood is unlikely here, but an earthquake is all too real a possibility. Perhaps I should read those books again.
Indie authors take note! Editors Bill and Davilynn Furlow have started the Great Books Under $5 blog to bring notable e-books to the attention of the reading public. They have posted reviews for seven books since February, in a number of genres: mystery, thriller, historical and even a “quirky allegory.”
When Mark Coker of Smashwords.com brought the Furlows’ blog to the attention of the Smashwords community, suggestions for books to review flooded in — more than 60 to date. The reviewers are diligently reading their way through these books and posting reviews (positive ones only!) every couple of weeks.
Readers and writers — check out this blog, subscribe and comment! It’s good to see that someone is paying attention.
Having written two postings about my favourite garden books, it occurred to me that the most recent of them was published nearly 20 years ago. In part that’s because it takes a while for a book to become a favourite, to endear itself to its reader to the point that the reader would not want to be without it. Books that have been around only a few years (less than ten, let’s say) need to prove their worth and earn their keep.
Even so, back in January I decided it was time to have a look at what sort of garden writing has emerged since the turn of the millennium. I looked for books of the philosophical sort, rather than those consisting of “how to” information. The first one I picked up was Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate : at work in the wild and cultivated world by Wendy Johnson (Bantam, 2008). It took me more than a month to read it, because it’s a hefty book — nearly 450 pages, measuring 9 x 7.5 x 1.25 inches.
This is a big book for a reason. Johnson is a passionate gardener of vast experience, and has packed all of that into this volume. Her perspective on gardening is informed by her experience as a Buddhist and this pervades every part of this book, which makes it rather complicated. Zen wisdom is inseparably intertwined with Johnson’s gardening practices. Balancing the two elements must have been a challenge when writing this book. The first two chapters describe how Johnson began gardening at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center, her early training in Buddhism, and several of the teachers in both fields who shaped her outlooks. Subsequent chapters focus on soil, compost, watering and weeding, dealing with pests, growing from seed, gardening values and the meaning of “harvest” in its broadest sense.
Soil is, of course, vitally important to a gardener, and Wendy Johnson is serious about soil. She approaches it from a number of angles — its chemistry, its physical texture, the organisms that live in it and help to create it, and as the gardener’s “home ground,” which he or she must come to know intimately. The chapter covers a variety of topics, from testing (and tasting!) your soil, to the effects of positively or negatively charged ions on plant nutrition, to an anecdote about transforming an area of impoverished subsoil into a school garden, to advice on digging and cultivating.
The chapter I found most entertaining, however, was the one on compost-making, entitled “Life into Death into Life.” As one who thinks of the compost heap as a place of life and death, I was intrigued, and as I read on, entertained as well. Johnson is a wild enthusiast for hot compost, exulting in high temperatures achieved as compost materials break down. She relates incidents in which dead animals (a chicken and a deer) were quickly reduced to skeletons following burial in compost piles. This is a gardener who has entrusted personal mementos to the invisible fires of the working heap, who says “Every compost pile has a unique signature, a hot, rotting charm all its own.” This statement precedes a memory of a “succulent pile” dubbed “Holy Shit,” that reached 160 degrees F. After reading this chapter, I resolved to be more diligent about my own composting practices.
Subsequent chapters impart valuable new insights into gardening practices such as watering, weeding and cultivation of the soil. The section on pests is particularly reflective of what might be considered unorthodox views. As both a practitioner of Zen Buddhism and an organic gardener intent on producing food crops, Johnson finds herself having to reconcile the entire concept of “pest control” with what she terms “gardening with all beings.” There are no easy answers, and Johnson admits that she does not believe it is possible to garden without harming and taking life. But the gardener must practice awareness and develop a degree of tolerance for the depredations of creatures labeled as pests. In addition to philosophical musings on this problem, Johnson offers a wide array of pest control techniques in keeping with organic principles.
The final two chapters celebrate the many ways in which gardens and gardening enhance life by bringing people closer to the earth and to each other. Johnson cites examples of the many gardens to whose creation she has contributed — private sanctuaries, meditation gardens, schoolyard food gardens and memorial gardens. Both failures and successes are celebrated, concluding with menus and recipes for a harvest from paradise.
As I read this book, I did at times think that Wendy Johnson’s gardening experience was too far removed from my own to be relevant. Green Gulch is actually a farm that sells some of its produce, very different from my 50′ x 120′ yard with its tiny vegetable patch and tree-root-infested perennial borders. In addition, while I recognize the reasons for including quite a bit about Zen Buddhism in this book, some may find it distracting. Finally, although there is much sound practical advice for gardeners here, this is more a book to read and savour, rather than a handy reference. Like the best garden writers, Johnson has strong opinions and expresses them with verve and enthusiasm. Whether one agrees with her or not, this book is worth reading, and with time, will no doubt be found among the favourites.
This week: Henry Mitchell, Sara B. Stein and Allen Lacy.
Two books by the late Henry Mitchell, The Essential Earthman (1981) and One Man’s Garden (1992) are possibly my absolute favourites when it comes to garden reading. His prose is so approachable, so idiosyncratic and full of whimsical phrases, that I would enjoy it almost as much if he were writing about fly fishing or golf, subjects in which my interest is very limited. Mitchell (who gardened in Washington D.C.) had strong opinions about plants and expressed them unequivocally. He liked big plants (Gunnera, for example) but disliked disproportionally big flowers, had no use for lawns and was ambivalent about trees (desirable in large gardens but not in small ones — like mine, something I totally agree with). I have read and re-read these books so many times that I suspect the rhythm of Mitchell’s prose, the way he put words together, has crept into my own writing. I admit that I have borrowed some of his phrases — for example, describing elaborate and labour-intensive soil preparation as “zub zub zub.” I now refer to any laborious task — sanding woodwork in preparation for painting, say — as “zubbing.” Mitchell gardened on a clay soil in a place with wet summers; I work with a sandy soil in a summer-dry Mediterranean climate, but his thoughts on plants and gardening have coloured my choices. Because of him, I have mulleins in my garden, although not the Verbascum bombyciferum he describes as “the bomb-carrying mullein,” but Verbascum olympicum. When I read his essay on plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) and its irresistible blueness, I decided I had to have it, and now I do. Henry Mitchell died in 1993 at the age of 69. An essay in One Man’s Garden never fails to move me to tears. It’s the one titled “Turn Down the Noise,” and it proves beyond a doubt that behind the wit and humour was a serious man and profound thinker — truly an Earthman.
There are many other gardeners as fond of Mitchell’s writing as I am. A blogger who calls herself the Bookish Gardener actually has a Henry Mitchell category in her blog, replete with quotes and extracts from his writings. Prof. David Neumeyer of the U. of Texas at Austin devotes a section of his website to Mitchell, complete with photographs.
My Weeds (1988) by Sara B. Stein, is about much more than weeds. Essentially it’s about the relationship between gardeners and plants, both weeds and non-weeds. In zesty, clever prose, Stein imparts a wealth of information about how plants grow and reproduce, and how the efforts of farmers and gardeners to manage them have had unintended results in many cases. The book is rooted in Stein’s own experiences with garden-making and struggles with weeds. An interesting detail is the endorsement on the back of the jacket by Eleanor Perenyi, who calls it “a fascinating and original book.” Interesting because Stein is an unabashed user of pesticides, while Perenyi eschews them unequivocally in her book, Green Thoughts. Gardeners of all persuasions have more in common than not, it seems.
I first encountered Allen Lacy’s The Garden in Autumn (1990) in a library. Being a librarian, I (ironically, perhaps?) buy relatively few books, but I had to have this one. Fall is the season I love best, so I decided that mine should be a garden that celebrates the decline of the year. (I’m not sure that I have succeeded in making it so, but that’s another story). After an introductory chapter in praise of autumn, Lacy takes the reader through an array of plants, from perennials that linger and those that are true fall-bloomers, to bulbs, grasses, annuals, shrubs and trees. The book is full of delicious plant descriptions — the colour of the chrysanthemum “Mei-Kyo” is a “strange raspberry sherbet,” and the oak-leaved hydrangea is “old-rose and lime-cream.” Simply reading about the plants is almost as good as seeing them in reality, an experience analogous to reading cookbooks but not actually cooking.
And an addendum: Christopher Lloyd, Peter McHoy and Tracy DiSabato-Aust.
Three more books — not first-rank favourites, but I wouldn’t want to be without them. The first is Christopher Lloyd’s Gardener Cook (1997). A friend gave it to me, and I have read it several times (although I don’t think I’ve tried any of the recipes). Mr. Lloyd was another opinionated gardener (and cook), which makes the book an entertaining read. I promise myself I will read his other books some day.
The Well-Tended Perennial Garden by Tracy DiSabato-Aust celebrates garden maintenence — deadheading, cutting back and trimming. It’s more a reference than a book one reads cover to cover, but DiSabato-Aust presents the information engagingly, with many photographs illustrating the effects of the techniques she describes.
Another reference is Peter McHoy’s Pruning : a practical guide. I turn to it regularly when I’m facing the fact that some plant in my garden (Oregon grape, honeysuckle, photinia or various clematises and roses) needs pruning. I cannot call myself a confident pruner, but McHoy’s book is somewhat reassuring. The first part describes and illustrates tools and techniques; it’s followed by an A-Z (by Latin name) with specifics.