Favorite 'old' books about gardening

GibsonGirlNovember 23, 2003

Leaving aside Beverley Nichols (whose books were listed in a different thread), I have a few really delightful first-person gardening books written in days gone by. I've put in a snippet from each, after the title/author/year(publisher, location).

Play and Profit in My Garden, by Rev. E.P. Roe

1886 (The O. Judd Company, USA)

from the Preface:

This is not a scientific work, as the reader will soon discover. I know that lofty minds will pass it by in silent disdain. I have not tried to make the world wiser. Let the wise do that. .... My style, I fear, is like my garden, which grows successfully many weeds while attempting something useful. I never could write a manual any more than I could work steadily in my garden at one thing all day. I always did like to weed near the strawberry bed or the raspberries, on the same principle. I fear that when a boy I enjoyed sitting near the choir, where I could glance at the pretty singers during the dry passages of the sermon. Do we not need occasional relaxation from the severe duties of life?

Weeds Are More Fun, by Priscilla Hovey Wright

1941 (Hale, Cushman and Flint, Boston)

from the chapter entitled "Pests: Several Kinds"

The gardener no sooner recovers from the ordeal of planting, and somehow or other lives through those anxious days of wondering whether the seeds are ever going to come up or not, and enjoys a few moments of doubtful pleasure when he discovers a few of them ARE coming up, than fresh woe is upon him. No sooner does a nice fresh green flower sprout show itself than at least six bugs of one sort or another are ready to make mincemeat of it.

A Sense of Humus, by Bertha Damon

1943 (Simon & Schuster, NY)

from the chapter "Ad Astra Per Exaspera"

New Hampshire, I found, may be said to have but three seasons: a three-month summer, a three-month fall, and a six-month winter. .... Samule and the rest of us know by annual experience that if winter comes, spring can be pretty darned far behind. We have the word "spring" but not the season, for March is midwinter, April is late winter, and May is winter and summer mixed. .... A garden in the Bay region [of California] began to lok in a few months as if it had been established two years. When I came to New Hampshire I held in common with countless other beginners that to make a plant grow all you do is dig a hold in the "dirt", put the plant in, pour on some water, and leave it; God does the rest. Well, He does in some places, but not here. In New Hampshire He gives us the privilege of more or less working things out for ourselves. Or else.

Old Herbaceous, by Reginald Arkell

1951 (Harcourt Brace & Co, NY)

This one is a novel, actually. From the flyleaf:

This is the story of a gardener, from the day when he won a price for wild flowers at the village show, to the day when he himself was judging flower shows all over the county; from the day when he refused to follow his schoolmates to a job as a farmhand and won the post of garden boy at the Big House, to the day when he could sit back among his cushions in his little cottage and criticize the younger generation's attitude toward tulips.

What are some of everyone else's favorite "old" gardening-related books?

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Enjoyed the bits you quoted...thanks. I too love old first-person narratives of gardening. I have Arkell's book. Have just moved and all my books are still in cartons. It will be weeks before I can get them all arranged again as I like. Will try and post a few favorites then. jo

    Bookmark   December 6, 2003 at 1:11AM
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Constance Spry's Garden Journal, written in the '30's.
She was sort of the Martha Stewart of her day:
She was a floral arranger who was considered radical because she used vegetables, fruits, & branches in her arrangements!
She wrote this book upon the encouragement of her friends in a garden club in New York.
She was instrumental in preserving old rose varieties during the Battle of Britain & David Austin later named his very first English Rose after her.
Don't have the book handy, but one of the things she says is that, after a disaster with some of the "new" fertilizers, she will never ever under any circumstances allow chemicals in her gardens again!

The Victory Garden. don't know the author. found the book at an antique store.
It's full of good everyday information, such as:
planting flowers in the vegetable garden to feed our hearts & souls
tending a small space well rather than over-extending, thus wasting seed & garden space as well as time & energy,
using proven varieties to assure production & quality.

Cultivating Delight, by Diane Ackerman.
Not an old book, but I do love it.
It's the story of a year in her garden, reflective & contemplative rather than nuts & bolts.
It's a delightful book; I'm on my 2nd trip through it.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2003 at 4:59PM
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Any of Elizabeth Lawrence's books. She was the first woman to graduate with a degree in horticulture from NC State University, and could write rings around most. She quotes Vergil, and makes you want to read it in the original Latin! You feel you know her friends in Charlotte and Raleigh where she lived! Highly, highly recommended.

Also Katherine White, E.B. White's (Charlotte's Web!) wife, who was an editor and writer for the New Yorker had a collection of her pieces from the magazine. Entertaining and informative! I've read it many times.

I wish both these writers, who knew and appreciated each other, were here to share more wisdom with us.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2004 at 5:29PM
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"The World Was My Garden" - by David Fairchild.

Fairchild was a young man at the turn of the last century. This book mentions so many interesting people (Alexander Graham Bell, Luther Burbank, ...), places (journeys up exotic rivers & across seas) & things (first rubber in the US, cherry trees in Wash DC, ...) ... really an adventure.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2004 at 5:31PM
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