The garden is in — and school is out. Whether you are heading off by plane, train or a trip to the hammock, everyone needs a fun read for the summer.
I’m re-reading “The Gardener’s Gripe Book,” by Abby Adams. It was published in 1995 when backyard gardening was coming into its heyday, especially after Martha Stewart put her stamp of approval on the activity.
The subtitle is “Musings, Advice and Comfort for Anyone Who Has Ever Suffered the Loss of a Petunia.” I think the subtitle is a great clue that the writer has a sense of humor.
Adams grew up in a “dark, grimy apartment in Greenwich Village,” where her mother, although having grown up on a farm, had the proverbial black thumb and managed to kill houseplants in a very short period of time. Adams cultivated an interest in gardening through osmosis rather than genetics. It was when her husband purchased a 10-acre farm in upstate New York that she officially tagged herself as being a “gardener” and then having to endure the teasing of friends saying, “Who? You?”
Like all of us, the couple fell into the money trap of having to build up an inventory of essentials like soil amendments, tools and gardening gadgets, with new temptations arriving by mail every day. Then there were always the items you didn’t know you needed until you needed them — and that meant another trip to town.
As Adams began her journey into the fine art of gardening, she started assembling “a list of garden quibbles and peeves and gripes,” which are the backbones of the book.
“Confusion about gardening begins with the word itself,” according to Adams. She proceeds onto a philosophical discussion comparing Webster’s and the Oxford English Dictionary’s definitions. Webster’s definition is “land for the cultivation of flowers, vegetables or fruit.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “an enclosed piece of ground devoted to the cultivation of flowers, fruit and vegetables.” The distinction between “land” and “an enclosed piece of ground” points out just one of the many differences between American gardens and British gardens.
“A garden is not nature. We speak of wildflower gardening and naturalistic gardening and harnessing or working in partnership with nature, but the fact is, nature and the gardener have different goals. Nature is what takes over when the gardener turns his or her back,” the book states.
The book is peppered with quotes placed in the margins next to the text. Quotations include Cicero (54B.C.) complaining to his brother Quintus regarding his overuse of ivy to Michael Pollan (“Second Nature”), who is complaining about mowing the lawn.
The chapter on the history of gardening, “From Eve to Martha Stewart,” runs the gamut from the second chapter of the book of Genesis to “Rodale’s Organic Gardening” and Martha Stewart’s television segments on gardening.
Fun tidbits of history help clarify the progression of the various gardening styles and popularity making me realize what a bunch of sheep we gardeners are.
“The pendulum of style, ever shifting between formalism and naturalism, has lately been swinging back and forth with the velocity of hem lengths,” Adams, the author, states.
Adams shares her epiphanies with her herbaceous border — plant choices and color, which brought back memories of gardens past. I was thinking ‘Yup, been there, done that.’
“Those rare moments of serenity — when the birds are chirping and the sun is shining and one’s hands are happily plunged into warm muck — are trifling compared with hours of frustration and worry when the muck yields a crop of disappointment. But we do it, and we even enjoy doing it,” Adams wrote. “We garden because it is absorbing. It’s like an endless soap opera. ‘All My Perennials,’ perhaps; ‘One Row to Hoe’; ‘As the Worm Turns.’ It’s as engaging as life itself — but in the long run, not as terrible.”