It is no secret that I love books. Especially those heavy bound photo books of gardens and plants. Nothing beats a quiet morning, steaming cup of tea by the side table and the weight of a new gardening book in my lap. While plenty of those have been added to my collection with the holiday behind us, I have recently found a new appreciation for some vintage, sometimes even antique volumes.
So much of what is produced is of short life nowadays, but these 4 books really brought me joy, besides the age. Maybe it is time to stop chasing the newest release and find some informative and entertaining vintage bargains.
“My Summer in a Garden” – Charles Dudley Warner (1870)
As part of a national surveying crew, Charles Dudley Warner traveled and lectured with passion. But it was this little book of reflective sketches and garden musing that first brought him to notable fame. He later went on to coauthor with his close friend Mark Twain, became interested in the management of prisoners and their reform and started the National Institute of Art and Letter.This book will make you chuckle, sometimes even laugh out loud. Although almost 150 years old, it is an easy read and every vegetable gardener will recognize the blight. Peas ravished by birds, seeds pecked right out of the ground, flowers sniped. This little volumes looks pretty and light weight, but it is packed with entertainment. President Grant will come for a garden visit – which probably was my favorite chapter. The author is incredibly personable and with a short 2 hour read ( old books are not long) I felt like I had just completed a visit myself.
” Elizabeth and her German Garden” – Elizabeth von Arnim (1898)
One of the early feminists of her time, Elizabeth von Arnim is quoted ““I believe all needlework and dressmaking is of the devil, designed to keep women from study.” The Australian-born British novelist, in real name Countess Mary Anette von Arnim-Schlagenthin, suffered under her domineering first husband, that kept her from pursuing her studies and love for writing. Only after his imprisonment for fraud and eventual dead in 1910, did she start her writing career under the name “Elizabeth”. As a matter of fact, this book was first published without a named author at all. It soon became so vastly popular, that it had to be reprinted more then 20 times in it’s first year alone. Another collection of life musings, this book reflects on building a garden on her Pomeranian estate while integrating herself into German high society. It is also very humerus, but in some parts carries a melancholy that is easy to relate to. We all sometimes sit in our gardens thinking back to earlier days. I myself went through the experience of re-learning gardening in a new climate – having to adjust my plant knowledge and giving up on some old favorites, that may be why I felt so connected with the author. This book is readily available on flee markets, used book stores and online portals, so keep an eye out for a copy. You will not regret it.
The MacMillan Book of Organic Gardening – Marie Louise Kreuter ( 1986)
This book is a harder find with used stores and vintage bargainers, but usually available for cheap if you locate it. Widely considered the mother of organic gardening in Europe, Marie Louise Kreuters book was only printed in Canada, but never in the US. It was part of the MacMillan gardening book series and received little to no attention in the North American market. But don’t be fooled, this book is packed with organic gardening theory and practical application. I still pull it out and find valuable information, especially for organic disease control and prevention. This is organic gardening in it’s early days, without any pretentiousness and hip terminology. You will be hard pressed to find a more comprehensive and practical book on organic gardening then this. And all that usually for under $10.
“Gertrude Jekyll’s Lost Garden” – Rosamund Wallinger (2000)
The year two-thousand doesn’t feel that long ago, but please, we are almost a decade before there was an Iphone. Think about that for a second. This book was a bestseller at it’s time and it specifically resonated with me because I myself took on an overgrown garden that was once a glory. For me, the dreamed of topiary boxwood under all that kudzu merely turned out to be privet, but Rosamund Wallinger found and subsequently rebuild garden gold. An original, but forgotten Gertrude Jekyll designed garden, she painstakingly reassembled the design plans and set out to located every variety, many of which were thought lost or very rare. While keeping her good humor ( a good gardening book needs good humor) she tells of her journey to take Upton Grey in Hampshire, England back to it’s former glory. And she succeeded, as it is a popular garden destination in England to this day. This is a rather large book, with beautiful photos and falls in the “open a random” category for me. One sure can read it all at once, or simply open any random page and you will be entertained.